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 NAESP Public School Uniform Article

»Information and Resources: Public School Uniforms

The National Association of Elementary School Principals does not have an official platform position on school uniforms.

"Adopting uniforms should be a school-by-school decision," says Vincent L. Ferrandino, NAESP's executive director. "Schools should engage the whole school community in the discussion on whether or not to introduce uniforms. It should not be a top-down decision. If adopted, uniform policies should allow for religious expression and provide financial assistance for families in need."

In 1987 Cherry Hill Elementary, an inner-city school in Baltimore, MD, made national news when it became (possibly) the first public school to adopt uniforms. Long Beach Unified School District in California became the first urban district to adopt a mandatory uniform policy for some of its schools in 1994. Since that time, uniform use has grown steadily, with a noticeable surge coming after the 1996 State of the Union address when former President Clinton recommended uniforms as one way to help keep schools safe. According to the March/April (2002) issue of Promowear, "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."

How many schools have uniform policies?
As of 1997, only three percent of all public schools required students to wear uniforms. About one-fourth (26%) 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.

Source: the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education, NCES fast-response survey, Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools 1996-97; NCES Number 98030; March 18, 1998.

The most students in uniform reside in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.
Top 10 cities with the most students in uniform:

  • Los Angeles/Long Beach, CA
  • New York
  • Houston
  • Philadelphia
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
  • Washington, DC
  • New Orleans
  • Detroit
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Atlanta
Source: Promowear, March/April 2002

As recently the summer of 2002, school districts were adding school uniform requirements to district mandates. The school board for Memphis City Schools (TN) voted in June, 2002, to require each school's leadership council to establish a uniform dress code policy, and more schools in the Cincinnati (OH) area were requiring either school uniforms or the adoption of standard dress codes.
Sources:, The Commercial Appeal, "Uniform Dress Code Approved for all Students" by Aimee Edmondson, June 4, 2002, and
The Cincinnati Enquirer, "Uniforms are Catching On, With Little Fight" by Cindy Kranz, August 23, 2002.

In some areas of the country, however, school districts are reportedly abandoning formerly successful school uniform policies.
Source: "Plaid's Out, Again, As Schools Give Up Requiring Uniforms" by Kate Zernike, The New York Times, September 13, 2002.

Results of NAESP's February, 2000, telephone survey of 755 principals nationwide showed that one in five (21%) public schools had uniform policies. About one-quarter (23%) of all public, private, and parochial school principals either had uniform policies in place, were currently writing one, or had it on their agenda. However, over two-thirds of respondents' schools (71%) did not have uniforms, nor were they considering them.

Regardless of whether or not they had uniforms in their schools, principals reported positive effects on:
  • the school's image in the community (84%)
  • classroom discipline (79%)
  • peer pressure (76%)
  • school spirit (72%)
  • concentration on schoolwork (67%)
  • student safety (62%)
Source: NAESP press release,"Survey of School Principals Reports Positive Effects of School Uniforms," July,2000.

According to USA Today, parents spent an average of $185 per child buying non-uniform clothing in 1998, compared with an average of $104 spent per child to purchase uniforms.
Source: USA Today, October 15, 1998

A more recent article in the Wall Street Journal lists uniform costs; the range is $25-$40 per outfit.
Source: Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2002

Since the Long Beach Unified School District in California implemented a system-wide uniform policy in 1994, assaults in grades K-8 have decreased by 85 percent.
Source: "Calif. District Points to Uniforms for Plunging Crime Rate" by Jessica Portner, Education Week, January 21, 1998

State Information:
The Education Commission of the States has compiled extensive information and statistics on uniform use in the United States. Go to

Pros and cons:
Proponents say uniforms:
  • reduce violence
  • reduce gang presence
  • increase school safety
  • increase school attendance
  • improve grades
  • provide financial benefits for parents
  • make economic differences between students less discernible
Critics say uniforms:
  • have no effect on safety or violence without other discipline policies
  • have no direct bearing on students' academic achievement
  • teach an undesirable lesson about individuality and making choices based on internal values
  • may mask risky behaviors (e.g., gang participation)
  • violate students' rights to free expression

More information:
The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us about American Education, by David L. Brunsma, Scarecrow Education, July 2004, 302 pp.
The book, which brings together research on school uniform use, finds that uniforms have not been effective at curbing school violence and cultivating student motivation, despite anecdotal evidence.

A study conducted by an independent research firm headed by Scott Joftus, Ed.D., funded by French Toast, manufacturer of children's apparel and school uniforms, and released in April, 2004, found school uniform policies helped improve school safety and student achievement, including grades and test scores, in three diverse public school districts (Denver Public Schools in Denver, Colorado; Aldine Independent School District outside of Houston, Texas; and CEO's District of Baltimore City Public Schools).

An ERIC Clearinghouse Policy Report that covers school uniforms and dress codes extensively from different points of view.

"Dress Codes and Uniforms" by Linda Lumsden and Gabriel Miller provides summaries of five publications on facets, pros, and cons, of school uniform use. NAESP Research Roundup - Summer 2002, Volume 18, Number 4

Teresa Carroll, director of communications for the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation in Mishawaka, IN, provides a three-page description of the process for the district’s policy change regarding school dress. Sensible strategies and advice are also offered at:

Manual on School Uniforms, published by the U.S. Department of Education, gives its recommendations and some examples of schools in many states that have policies as well as advice from experienced sources on how to implement a school uniform policy.

School Uniforms Why and How is a free booklet written by NAESP in partnership with Lands' End, Inc. Call Lands' End for copies at 1-800-544-9920. The booklet discusses NAESP's survey, gives examples of schools that have uniforms, and gives advice on how to develop a policy. See the booklet in PDF.

New Century School, "Issues Forum: School Uniforms," provides a thorough discussion of the arguments surrounding the question of mandatory school uniforms.

"School Uniforms: Panacea or Band-Aid," an article on the Education World Web site, summarizes the issues on both sides of the public school uniforms issue.

"School Uniforms: A Critical Review of the Literature" by David L. Brunsma, reports that support for school uniforms in public schools relies "overwhelmingly" on anecdotal evidence and that the empirical research on the issue is (at best) not conclusive.

"Order in the Classroom: Violence, Discipline and Student Achievement" by Harold Wenglinsky, Richard Coley and Paul Barton, is an Education Testing Service Policy Information Report. This study found that uniforms had no effect on student academic achievement. Available for $10.50 at

"The Effects of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems, Substance Use, and Academic Achievement" by David L. Brunsma and Kerry A. Rockquemore, finds "that student uniforms have no direct effect on substance use, behavioral problems or attendance." The Journal of Education Research (Volume 92, Number 1, Sept./Oct. 1998, pp. 53-62)

"Perception Versus Reality: School Uniforms and the 'Halo Effect'" by Marc Posner, Harvard Education Newsletter, May/June 1996. to order a reprint; is the home page.
Article link:

June Million/Barbara Wilmer-NAESP's Public Information Office
703-684-3345 or 1-800-386-2377
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Last Updated on Friday, 09 May 2008 22:18



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