School Dress Codes and Uniforms
In the mind of some, the idea of telling someone how they must dress can be outlandish as telling someone what they must think or what religion they must follow. On the other hand, there are plenty of people that not only think that being told how to dress is acceptable, but it is preferred. Perhaps this is why the idea of a school dress code and the implementation of a school uniform policy has and continues to be a controversial topic.
What is the answer to the question, “Should public schools have a uniform policy?” It depends. The factors that need to be taken into consideration when adopting a dress code and/or uniform policy for a school district are many. Such as, the current climate of student dress, student achievement rates, societal norms and values as well as myriad of cultural, artistic and religious factors that can play into the shaping of a school dress code.
As far as research data goes, there is a contradiction in the findings. Virginia Draa, an Assistant Professor at Youngstown State University in Ohio, “reviewed attendance, graduation and proficiency pass rates at 64 public high schools in Ohio...Draa's study concluded that those schools with uniform policies improved in attendance, graduation and suspension rates.”(Wilde) However, Draa did
not find any correlation between school uniforms and academic p
In another study conducted by David Brunsma, an Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri, he concluded that, “there is no positive correlation between uniforms and school safety or academic achievement.” (Wilde)
In the meantime, “the movement toward uniforms in public schools has spread to about a quarter of all elementary schools.” (Wilde) This seems to be a trend that is slowly growing. This is not as true in middle and high schools as, “student resistance is much, much higher”. (Wilde). Is it reasonable to ask any student in a public school setting to wear uniforms or to adhere to a strict dress code?
Again, it all depends. Public schools are suppose to be designed to educate the masses and that means provide a free and equal education to all. There are some obstacles that rear their ugly heads when we try to adhere to a free and equal education to all while imposing a strict dress code policy. For example, is it reasonable to violate a student’s right to expression and free speech by imposing a dress code on them? Could this potentially expose students to bullying and/or harassment from children in non-uniform districts? Is it fair to impose a dress code that may lead to families spending more on clothing for their child when they are already on a tight budget?
On the other hand, is the inconvenience of implementing a strict dress code or uniform policy worth the headache? Strict dress codes and/or uniform policies can help to alleviate gang issues in schools by not allowing gang members to wear colors or symbols affiliated with their gang. A strict dress code can help to “diminish the economic barriers” that students face by allowing them to dress in the same fashion as their peers. (Wilde) This kind of dress code can also lead to some students feeling a greater “sense of belonging and school pride” while leading to “increased attendance”. (Wilde)
Maybe this is or is not an issue in the district where you work. In some schools the dress of students is not the concern, but the dress of the teachers! Many school districts across the country are now looking at imposing or redefining the dress codes that they have i
n place for the district staff.
For example, in New York City’s P.S. 64 - Robert Simon School, staff are no longer allowed to wear jeans to work. Is this a problem where you work? How about tattoos and piercings? “A school district in Phoenix is requiring teachers to cover up tattoos and excessive piercings. And several Arizona schools are strictly defining business casual. (Abutaleb) Does the warm Arizona climate play into the decision-making process here? How out-of-control is the appearance of staff members? Is this detrimental to student growth and achievement?
One thing's for sure, if more school districts are going to impose stricter dress code guidelines for their staff to follow it should be connected to student and staff achievement. This will be hard to track as there is currently a lack of data. As of July, 2012 the National Center for Education Statistics reported that, “the number of public schools requiring uniforms has nearly doubled over the past decade to 19%”. Meanwhile, they do not track data and trends regarding staff dress codes and policy but state that we “soon may have too”. (Abutaleb)
The Litchfield, Arizona school district’s dress code states that, “Teachers can't sport outlandish hairstyles or facial piercings, and tattoos have to be covered up” while the Peoria, Illinois school district’s dress code for staff states that, “tank-top straps can't be less than 2 inches wide” for females. Are these really problems with the staff in these schools?
My own personal feelings on this are more on the open-minded side in regards to students. I believe that students should have to wear what they want as long as it is not too revealing, does not carry any inappropriate messages or connotations. While working in the public school system, I believe that it is our duty to provide all kids with the same opportunities to learn and express themselves. That is not to say I am wholly against school uniforms, I’m not. However, some districts and schools need to look at the benefit of a strict dress code and possibly uniforms more closely than others. I feel as though my school is not one of them. However, if I was appointed as the Principal of a school where gang activity and school attendance were looming issues I would consider such a move. Not however, without consulting members of the staff and community. Without their feedback and support to move to a strict dress code or uniform policy I believe it would be bound to fail.
Meanwhile, my feelings are significantly different in regards to the attire that staff wear. As an adult who is charged with the education of children, I believe that all educational staff should be treated as highly regarded professionals. Part of the responsibility of acting accordingly is to dress appropriately. I believe that staff set the tone and model for their students in a multitude of ways. That means we model proper ways to: communicate, listen, share and how to think. We model for our student what hard work and preparation looks like as well as how to dress! That's right, we should model how to dress in a professional manner so that we know that our kids have an idea of how they should groom and present themselves when they apply for a job or interview for the military or college.
For some students this is a non-issue because they have support at home through family and friends and their support network will help them. What about the kids who don’t have the support and guidance at home? Where are they going to turn to or draw from when they get their big chance? One source should be the teachers and educational staff that have helped them grow in their education!