Christian School Products recently published an article by Parker’s President, Troy Pike, in its March 2011 online newsletter. In the article, Pike outlined the research data showing that adopting a school uniform policy can have a positive impact on student performance in school. We thought back-to-school was a great time to reprint portions of the article. After all, it is the time of year when students, parents, and Parker employees are dreaming of polos, khakis and plaids. What better time to remind our customers and potential customers why it makes so much sense for schools to adopt a school uniform policy?
When the Long Beach, California, public school system implemented a uniform policy for their 60,000 K-8 students in 1996, they were hopeful it might at least slow their worrying increase in school crime. They could hardly have anticipated what transpired. When they reviewed the data two years later, they found there had been a staggering 71 percent decrease in overall school crime. In contrast, their high schools, where no uniform policy had been adopted, saw violence increase 28 percent in the same period. The Long Beach findings have been mirrored in other systems nationwide, and not just in terms of falling crime. Uniform programs improve civility, save families money, and boost self-esteem. It turns out, clothes mean a lot.
Do kids who wear uniforms behave better? When it comes to the civility-boosting benefits of school uniforms, Long Beach has company. In the fall of 1998, two schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico, adopted a uniform policy of tucked-in polo shirts and khaki pants or skirts. In a study of the results published by Deborah L. Elder in 1999, it was found that in the very first semester the policy was put in place, total disciplinary referrals in the two schools fell by more than 50 percent.
Another study suggests just how profoundly uniforms can influence attitudes and behavior. In 1996, Richard K. Murray conducted a survey of two schools in Charleston County, South Carolina, using the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Comprehensive Assessment of School Environments School Climate Survey. One school adopted uniforms, the other did not. In the one that did, school climate rated higher in 9 out of 10 categories than its peer school.
With results like these, it’s little wonder that mandated school uniform policies have been getting more popular. In fact, the number of schools with uniform policies rose 3 percent in a recent 6-year period. In light of other findings, it’s a wonder they did not rise more.
Do school uniforms help families save money? Aside from their contributions to school environment, school uniform programs provide a practical benefit to families: they save money. In 1999, the NPD Group conducted a consumer study to determine the cost of a school uniform program. They discovered that families whose children attended “uniform” schools spent an average of $85 less on clothes per year than families whose children did not.
This is not to say that uniforms are “cheap” in and of themselves. Instead, parents save money by not having to invest in expensive, “status symbol” fashions season after season. What’s more, because uniform styles remain consistent over the years, parents often find themselves able to pass down uniforms from one child to the next. (Durability helps with that, too. Unlike most clothing that is designed to last only a season, uniforms are often reinforced at stress points – think knees and seat – to stand up to an active lifestyle.)
In addition, the better uniform companies design their clothes specifically to accommodate what children do best: grow. Uniform features can include generous hems, movable buttons, adjustable waists, and other features to adapt to a changing child. For all these reasons, families can experience significant dollar savings over time with a uniform program.
Do uniforms bring people together? The story would not be complete without noting some “softer” – but no less important – benefits of a uniform program. For one, parents tend to find they argue less with their children over what to wear (and what not to wear). Schools, too, no longer have to struggle to keep their dress codes a step ahead of endlessly inventive students.
Uniforms also help level the playing field for students in terms of socioeconomic status. Those of lesser means do not feel as conspicuous in their inability to afford the latest fashions; that, in turn, encourages students to judge one another more by character than by logos. And, finally, uniforms – with their crisp, classic good looks – invariably help instill a sense of pride in school and self.
The author who wrote, “What a strange power there is in clothing” did not have school uniforms in mind. Nevertheless, clearly these garments have the power to exert a positive influence on young people, and impact the way they approach not just their schoolwork, but one another. For that reason alone, while a uniform program may not ultimately be for every school, it is certainly something every school should consider.
Troy Pike, President of Parker School Uniforms