Do School Uniforms Negatively Affect Kids' Behavior?

The pros and cons of students wearing school uniforms is a hotly debated topic with supporters on both sides passionately holding to their stances. It might not be the most pressing educational issue -- the National Center for Educational Statistics reports that only 19 percent of public school principals reported requiring students to wear uniforms during the 2009-2010 school year. Yet when a community approaches this issue, the discussion often sharply divides public opinion.

Sets A Professional Tone

Advocates of mandatory uniforms contend the wearing of uniforms helps create a more professional tone in the school. In its research brief on school uniforms, According to a 2004 research paper by the nonprofit organization Character Education, students have lost the idea that school is a setting focused on education rather than a daytime hangout at which to catch up on the latest social news. The wearing of uniforms changes this lackadaisical attitude, supporters contend. Character Education cites studies of uniform implementation at three Atlanta-area high schools and one in Cherry Hill, N.J., in which improved attendance rates, test scores and a decrease in suspensions were tracked via data provided from each school.

Levels the Costly Fashion Playing Field

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In its research brief on school uniforms, Education Partnerships Inc., notes wearing a uniform levels the socioeconomic playing field within the school setting. The Public School Review concurs, stating that uniforms alleviate the peer pressure of stylish dressing in the "best" brands. This can be especially true for girls in middle school and high school who are bombarded by teen style magazines featuring airbrushed models wearing the latest styles.

Takes Away Individual Expression

On the flip side, researchers specializing in adolescent issues say the wearing of uniforms can be negative: In a Family Education article, Alan Hilfer, senior psychologist in the Children's and Adolescent Unit at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, recognizes that uniforms do eliminate fashion competition but he also states that clothing is a source of self-expression for children. He says that as children age and their need for individuality increases, so does their resentment of uniforms. The Public School Review notes that children will turn to other forms of self-expressions such as inappropriate hairstyles, jewelry or make-up when denied the ability to choose their own clothing.

Responsiblity Development Denied

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Those against the wearing of school uniforms argue that not allowing children to select their clothing denies them the opportunity to learn how to make responsible choices. The Public School Review notes opponents contend that even preschoolers should have input in the selection of their daily attire to begin the life-long process of choosing appropriate clothing for the day's activities and venue. Education Partnerships Inc. also notes the wearing of uniforms does reduce student responsibility in making mature choices about what to wear.