Do school uniforms really do anything to help students concentrate and learn, or are they stifling and a sign of elitism?


Scott Braithwaite, First year student

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A strict dress code creates a business atmosphere in school that is necessary for classes, but at home while you are doing homework answers. You are not dressed in school uniform. For this, there is a terrific service The form disciplines the student. A uniform school uniform allows to avoid competitiveness between children in clothes. A pupil in school uniform thinks about studying, and not about clothes. There is no problem "What to go to school", children have a positive attitude, a calm state activates the desire to learn. The school uniform helps the child feel like a student and a member of a certain collective, gives an opportunity to feel their involvement in this school. If clothes are necessary to the child to taste, he will feel pride in his appearance.

Karen Berlin Ishii, One-to-One ACT Test Prep in NYC and via Skype

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As someone who attended public schools – in the 1960's and early 1970's when we chafed at the merest hint of a dress code – and whose children attended public schools where they wore what they wanted, I always found the idea of dress codes offensive and school uniforms unbearable.

But there is clearly another side of the story and I learned a little about it from one of my test prep students' ACT essay. The question asked specifically about school uniforms and the student, who attended a private high school which required a uniform, related her own anecdote: One day, she and her two best friends from school planned to meet up at the shopping mall. It was the first time they had met outside of school where they only knew each other in their uniforms. At the mall, though, they discovered that one was a preppie, one a goth and the other a hippie. It was a startling revelation to them – they realized that had they dressed their own ways for school, they would have been stuck in disparate cliques and would likely never have had the opportunity to get to know each other or become friends.

That says a lot about the egalitarian benefits of a school uniform. Clearly, a uniform also softens socioeconomic barriers and promotes a serious school environment, eliminating the distractions of fashion, class, competition, inappropriate or distracting apparel, etc.

Dylan Ferniany, Ed.D. in Leadership, Policy, and Organizations

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I have worked in a district with high poverty, and one that was affluent. In the affluent district, students did not have to wear uniforms but instead there was a dress code, where shorts had to be a certain length, no offensive logos, etc. In the high poverty district there is a uniform, khaki or black pants, white or blue collared shirt tucked in. I have mixed feelings about school uniforms for low income students.

On the one hand, it makes it a little harder to see the haves and have nots. When I was in school there were always certain expensive brands that were the cool thing to wear, and I've noticed that in students today too. What's interesting is that even with a uniform students will find other ways to express themselves and push the envelope. So even though they are all in the same uniform, they may show status with their shoes or accessories.

A benefit to uniforms is that it is efficient. I know that when I have my clothes picked out for the week it is much easier to get going in the morning.

One problem with uniforms is that the more strict a dress code, the more time administrators and teachers need to spend enforcing it. So if part of the dress code is a tucked in shirt, a lot of time is spent tucking in shirts.

Like many other things we do in education, I'm not sure this is a well-researched area or whether we know that it works. I do know that for some kids, it can put them on an equal playing field with others. The collared shirts make the students look professional, like they are going to work at a job. I think that for students in low income schools, a uniform can be helpful for both the families and the school.

Barbara Spalding, Parent Resource & Coach for Education

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As the mother of a fashionista (yes, even at age 5)... going the uniform route caused some hesitation. But honestly, i think it is terrific. For starters, it completely simplifies the morning route. WOW, what a life-saver there. It allows for discussion about dreams, breakfast and excitement the day holds instead of the battle of "where's my..." and let's not forget the argument of shorts in February. So on that note alone, I'm completely in favor of school uniforms... affording the start of the day to be on a positive note.

As far as distractions, I feel that a uniform policy definitely assists here. Kids can't help but notice other kids' stuff (backpacks, rain boots... even their lunch snacks) so it makes sense to minimize the distraction that a casual wardrobe can bring. Everyone is on a level playing field, with bits of personality peeking through with hair style, accessories and, in our case, a "casual clothes day" every now and then. My fashionista changes into play clothes are soon as she gets home... and if the outfit isn't worn long or outside... then it gets folded and placed back in the drawer (saving me time and detergent).

I loved the story above about the 3 friends who likely wouldn't have befriended one another had it not been for their uniforms policy, simply based on the styles each of them preferred and the stereotypes of associated with each.

I think the correlation between uniforms and discipline is fascinating. Other experts here had indicated such, I don't have the research to support the argument but find it an interesting note.

Laura Burgess Martin, Special needs parent; work in non-profit sector

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Hi- I taught in a private school for four years that required specific uniforms (before this, I taught in a public school that had a loosely enforced dress code). I came to quickly like the students wearing uniforms. As a teacher, I very rarely had to worry about dealing with dress code (occasionally, girls liked to push the limit in their skirt length) and was able to focus solely on teaching. The uniforms helped put the students on a level "playing field" socially and academically.

The students enjoyed the uniforms. They would frequently say they enjoyed not having to decide what to wear each morning. Several students told me that "dress down days" were stressful because they worried what others would think of their choice of clothing.

Best wishes!

Amy McElroy, Former Attorney, Writer, Editor, parent of a junior high and high school student

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Uniforms are often intended to take focus off a potential distraction for students: what others are wearing versus what they are wearing. It's hard to know how effective that learning strategy actually is. But on a practical note, school uniforms can simplify things for both students and parents because there is no thinking about what to wear day-to-day. It's a legitimate hassle in the mornings as students begin to care about their appearance and spend significant time changing clothes or searching for a particular clothing item, or fighting with siblings over clothing. Also typically, there are discounted used uniforms available from the school each year, so all students can afford to purchase the uniforms at a reasonable price and exchange them year-to-year as they grow. Uniforms are usually durable wash and wear fabrics.

On the other hand, students often resent being unable to express themselves through their fashion choices at school. Thus, they need other ways to do so, and it's important to provide those opportunities both in and outside school. For example, school spirit days can include things other than clothing and allow students to express their artistic side. Open class discussions can provide the opportunity for students to express their opinions, and occasional choices in projects, such as presenting information in a poem, video, dance, etc., instead of a written essay or test also give students more opportunities to express themselves. At home, parents and students should work together to find ways for the students to express themselves through their clothing and other creative activities that are acceptable to both the children and the parents.

Gina Badalaty, Parent of 2 kids with disabilities, Professional Blogger

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The other side of uniforms relates to Robyn's answer. Kids with sensory issues or autism may not feel the same way about uniforms as other kids do. My child is going through a phase where she cannot tolerate sleeves. This is not even terribly uncommon among children with severe sensory issues. If she was allowed an "out" from wearing a uniform to accommodate her physical stress, she would then stand out from the crowd. I grew up in Catholic school wearing a uniform and it was terribly uncomfortable because of my own sensory issues. I also saw how other kids also could dress theirs up with costly accessories, so it didn't really eliminate any "class" gap among my schoolmates. Kids simply turned to other ways to stand out in expensive gear: jewelry, hair accessories, shoes and sneakers.

That said, I have no issue with a reasonable dress code for school that is enforced. For example, our school does not allow tops with straps or pants with words across the butt or shorts during the school day, and sneakers/walking shoes, as well as rain and snow boots, are more or less required since kids may be outside any day of the week.

Emily Gover, MSIS, Librarian and Ed Tech Community Manager

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Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that uniforms improve attendance at the secondary level, and teacher retention at the primary level. A survey from the National Association of Elementary School Principals also found that an overwhelming majority school leaders felt a "formal dress code policy" made a positive impact on classroom discipline (83%), student safety (79%), and student achievement (64%).

Having attended schools that both require and do not require school uniforms, I can see the pros and cons it has for students. One could argue that uniforms create a "level playing field" among students, where brand names clothes don't define who you are or what group you'll fit in with (as much as we wish this wasn't the case, it often can be). That said (and as others have, too), kids and teens can express themselves through their clothing, and stifling that freedom of expression could be seen as unappealing to parents or students.

To help you further form and develop your own opinion, here is some additional reading for you:

  • School Uniforms on
  • University of Nevada, Reno, gave an overview of an academic study on student perceptions and feelings about school uniforms
Robyn Scott, Educational Consultant, TutorNerds LLC

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There are varying opinions regarding uniforms. Personally, I had both experiences at different schools and developed a strong preference but the important thing to remember is that each child is an individual.

On one hand, uniforms can help remind younger children that it's time to study, just at 'business casual' or a suit reminds people that it's time to work. Many children respond very well to uniforms. On the other hand, students with a creative edge won't have much, if any, opportunity to express themselves and teens may need to express themselves through fashion or a specific style.

Personally, I think it comes down to comfort. If a child is wearing clothing, uniform or not, that is ill-fitting or uncomfortable they will be distracted from their learning. Perhaps a compromise can work. Most adults have clothes they wear to work and clothes for the weekend. Many schools have dress codes that deter students from wearing certain types of clothing but still allow them to express their personality to a certain extent.

I hope this helps!

Vielka Cecilia Hoy, Founder/Director at Vielka Hoy Consulting, Teacher, and Parent

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I think the answer depends on what community you are referring to. There is some degree of social training that happens in schools that boast high-achievement for students of color and other under-represented groups; one of which is looking in a way that is acceptable to the mainstream. In low-income communities, families will say that uniforms help them to keep from buying overly expensive clothes for their students. That would be counter to your point regarding elitism.

And for all groups, taking the pressure from looking a certain way out of the equation is often times thought to be a relief and a way to avoid discomfort for girls, as studies support (and should be the case for boys).

I have worked in schools with uniforms and dress codes and schools without them, and I have been a student at both. I am not sure if I would have a dress code if I ran my own school but as a parent, I admit that my son has "school clothes" that are very uniform-like. And I can't tell you the amount of times male teachers have been uncomfortable around girls who are wearing tank tops or short shirts, even to the point of intentionally not calling on them.

While I see the importance of developing creativity in young people, I am not sure that too much emphasis should be placed on what they are wearing or how they look. That brings up a host of other issues. So uniforms alleviates that to some degree.

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