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School Uniforms Aren't Couture, But They Improve Graduation Rates

When schools look for ways to boost student morale and attendance, they sometimes turn to school uniforms.
Posted at 7:06 PM, Dec 20, 2018

We don't all make the best sartorial selections when we're young. Fashion becomes a way to express yourself. 

A new outfit, makeup, a coif — young people naturally experiment.

But maybe some boundaries wouldn't hurt — especially in places where distractions matter, like schools. 

One thing can be said about school uniforms: They're not couture.

Khaki. Plaid. Suede Oxfords. Maybe a tie and a blazer. Neutrality, conformity even, is the point, and uniforms are becoming more common. 

Between 2000 and 2014, the percentage of public schools requiring uniforms jumped from 12 percent to 20 percent, and it notched up to 21 percent by 2016. More primary schools than middle schools require uniforms — 25 vs. 20 percent — and only 12 percent of high schools do.

Also, more public schools located in cities rather than suburban or rural areas mandate uniformity. The predicted effect and the actual outcomes didn't always align.

Proponents believe that uniforms in public schools:

• Help prevent gangs.

• Reduce economic and social barriers.

• Help create a sense of belonging.

• Bolster attendance.

Opponents insist uniforms:

• Violate free expression.

• Are a Band-Aid on school violence.

• Can be a financial burden on parents who already are paying taxes.

• Are difficult to enforce.

The research is mixed. Depending on where you look, yes, school uniforms can make a difference.

study of six Ohio schools found with uniforms, graduation rates jumped almost 11 percent, and attendance went up 3.5 percent. 

The Long Beach, California, district became the first in the nation to require uniforms in 1994, and it saw a drop in the first year of assaults, fights, firearm possession and other offenses.