PHILLIPS COLUMN: Uniform policies grow in popularity

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 31, 2007

School uniforms have been increasingly growing in popularity in recent years. Originally they were trademarked for private schools and were used to signify uniformity, school pride and loyalty. But the trend of school uniforms became the talk in education circles in the late 80s and began to blossom in the 90s as public schools began enforcing the new regulations.

The first public school known to kick off the new style of school dress was in Cherry Hill Elementary School, an inner-city school in Baltimore, Md., in 1987. Following on the heels of Cherry Hill, Long Beach Unified School District in California became the first urban district to adopt a school uniform policy for some of its schools in 1994.

Long Beach has since been used as somewhat of a model school for school uniform policies. The district&8217;s records cite a 91 percent drop in school crime, while attendance reached its highest point after five years of the policy&8217;s implementation. Suspensions were down by 90 percent within the district and sex offenses were reduced 96 percent.

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Adding to the growing popularity of school uniforms, former President Bill Clinton recommended uniforms as a way to increase safety within the schools of America during his State of the Union address in 1996. He said, &8220;If it means teenagers will stop killing each other over de-signer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require students to wear school uniforms.&8221;

Clinton has continually expressed the need for discipline and the removal of violence from within schools. The Department of Education also distributed a manual with suggestions on the regulation of school uniform policies and an overview of &8216;model&8217; schools that were already under the uniform policy to all 16,000 school districts.

The continuing trend of school uniforms can be found within sales statistics as well. The March/April 2002 issue of Promowear cited, &8220;Market-research company the NDP Group Inc. reports that school-uniform sales rose by 22 percent in 2000, reaching $1.1 billion, compared to $900 million in 1999.&8221;

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that in 1997 only 3 percent of all public schools required students to wear uniforms. About one-fourth or 26 percent of these schools initiated the requirement prior to the 1994-95 school year; 40 percent initiated it between the 1994-95 and 1995-96 school years; and 34 percent initiated it in the 1996-97 school year.

Promo wear also reported in 2002 that most students in uniform reside in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. The popularity of school uniform policies has spread across the nation; so much that percentages of school&8217;s implementing a uniform policy have drastically increased.

In February of 2000, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) cited results from a telephone survey of 755 principals nationwide. NAESP&8217;s survey showed that one in five or 25 percent of public schools had uniform policies in place, were currently writing one or had it on their agenda.

However, the survey showed that over two-thirds of respondents&8217; schools, or 71 percent, did not have uniforms, nor were they considering them. Interestingly though, regardless of whether or not the principals had uniforms in their schools, they reported positive effects on: the school&8217;s image in the community, 84 percent; classroom discipline, 79 percent; peer pressure, 76 percent; concentrating on schoolwork, 67 percent and student safety, 62 percent.

Although Long Beach&8217;s statistics show positive statistics, some education experts have met these stats with criticism. They say no school can prove that a uniform policy alone created the results they documented. The critics say other factors could have been just as important to the change in percentages.

Other opponents of school uniforms list the loss of a sense of individuality and freedom of expression when a uniform policy is enforced. Whereas supporters of the policy say the uniforms do not erase the student&8217;s individuality, but rather include all students on the same level of image and dress.

Activists for school uniform policies also cite cost as being an advantage for the uniform policies. According to USA Today, parents spent an average of $185 per child purchasing non-uniform clothing in 1998, compared with an average of $104 spent per child to purchase uniforms. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2002 the cost for a uniform costs in the range of $25-40 per outfit.

Other opponents of the uniform issue say that purchasing uniforms only adds to the amount spent on clothing because after-school clothing set is needed as well.

Regardless of the pros and cons of the uniform policies, many schools warrant the success of the policies on the communication between the administration, students and parents of the school. It is up to the administrators of the school to monitor the policy and work to encourage the school uniformity and pride within the students.

Gennie Phillips is the managing editor of The Demopolis Times. She can be reached by e-mail to