Last week I reviewed the first four practices of effective principals that were presented in the five-part CCSSO series on School Leadership In Action segment on Creating a Climate Hospitable To Education.  This week I’ll present the final four, which are:

  • Adopt a policy in which students wear school uniforms.
  • Educate the whole child and provide supports where necessary.
  • Engage and listen to parents.
  • Have teachers visit each other’s classrooms to observe good practices and provide time to debrief in a trusting, risk-free environment.

 Adopt a policy in which students wear school uniforms.

The assistant principal of the Maryland middle school speaks of the benefits of their policy that mandated school uniforms.  He attributes improvements in his school to the implementation of the school uniform policy and states, “The level of respect goes up. The level of learning goes up. Everything improves in the building.”

Photo Credit: Dave Dieter, The Huntsville Times

The issue of school uniforms has been highly profiled since President Clinton commented on the benefits of school uniforms in 1996.  His Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, sent a Manual on School Uniforms to all school districts in March of that year.  The belief was that adopting such policies would have the benefits of:

  • Reducing discipline problems
  • Creating a safe environment for learning
  • Reducing violence and crime in schools

 In addition, school uniform advocates suggested the implementation of such policies would also reduce truancy, improve attendance, reduce substance abuse, and improve student achievement.

The approach I have taken for my blogs has been to seek out research that addresses what I present in this blog.  I do this because I believe that what we do in schools should carefully consider the research base.  This belief is consistent with the philosophy behind Indistar and the selection of indicators of effective practice.  Each indicator has a research base that justifies its inclusion in Indistar. This philosophy is also at the core of Robert Marzano’s and John Hattie’s work.

 So I started researching school uniforms.  What does research say about the benefits of school’s adopting such policies? And this has lead me off the main topic of reporting on the CCSSO series to a larger question that I would like to discuss this week.  The basic question is – when research findings are in conflict, how do we as educational practitioners at the state, district, and school level resolve the differences and make sound educational policy and programmatic decisions?

 So let me describe my journey and the issues it raises in my mind.  The issues are not specific to school uniforms.  School uniforms are only the vehicle that helped me identify the larger questions.

The first document I found was a study, published in 1998 in The Journal of Educational Research.  This journal employs a double-blind peer review process. Following is the abstract from that article, which utilized data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988:

 “Recent discourse on public school reform has focused on mandatory uniform policies. Proponents of such reform measures emphasize the benefits of student uniforms on specific behavioral and academic outcomes. This research empirically tests the claims made by uniform advocates using 10th grade data from The National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988. Our findings indicate that student uniforms have no direct effect on substance use, behavioral problems or attendance. A negative effect of uniforms on student academic achievement was found. These findings are contrary to current discourse on student uniforms. We conclude that uniform policies may indirectly affect school environment and student outcomes by providing a visible and public symbol of commitment to school improvement and reform.” (Brunsma and Rockquemore, 1998.)

Subsequently, Ann Bodine took the authors of this study to task for misrepresenting the results, which she claimed demonstrated an overall positive correlation between uniforms and achievement.  She published in the same peer reviewed journal.

As one might expect, Brunsma and Rockquemore responded and defended their research in significant detail. 

Other authors in various publications, including journals, newspapers, masters and doctoral theses, etc. referred to the debate between these authors. Recognizing that various studies look at this topic through different lenses and with differing levels of adherence to quality research design, and newspapers may or may not represent the debate accurately, where does this leave us as educational practitioners at the state, district, and school levels, who must make decisions about policies, programs, methods, etc.?

If we have experts available to decipher design issues such as regression analyses, weighted regressions, sector analysis. etc. we might be able to decipher sentences such as, “The standardized population weight multiplied by the inverse of the appropriate design effect is used in the analyses in order to take into account the fact that NELS:88 is a clustered data set.” If not, how do we make decisions?

 I can only suggest how I continued to approach this question.  I haven’t taken a statistics course since my graduate years so I can’t decipher all the arguments about statistical analyses to determine if the research design was appropriate or the interpretations reasonable. But what I can do is continue to read the references and commentary about the issue, which I did.  And then I have to make some decisions based on the relative credibility of the sources and the logic of the arguments. I can determine if the research is based on a small sample of one or two schools or a large comprehensive national database. I can determine if the research is reported in a peer reviewed journal or a local newspaper or by the school system justifying its implementation of school uniforms or any policy or practice.  In addition, many educational issues have been researched and discussed for years, if not decades.  Over time, consensus is sometimes reached and I can look for that consensus.

These then are the ways in which I completed, what I admit, is a cursory study of the issue of school uniforms. The list of references I reviewed can be found at the end of my blog. 

 My observations are:

School uniforms have no positive effect on student achievement based on large-scale meta-analyses. (Brunsma and Rockquemore, 1998)  Hattie (2009) referenced the 2004 Brunsma book and quoted the author that school uniforms had “no effect on school or pro-peer attitudes, on attendance, on self-esteem, locus of control, coping skills, level of drug use, or behavior incidents.” (Hattie p. 106)

 Consensus seems to have coalesced around the Brunsma and Rockquemore study. References to the Bodine (2003) criticism of the Brunsma and Rockquemore (1998) study seem to have subsided after their subsequent response, while the Brunsma and Rockquemore (1998) study and the Brunsma (2004) book have continued to be cited in reports on school uniforms (Education Week, 2005).

 In some smaller-sample studies, results were mixed. Some found positive correlations in middle and high schools, particularly with female students, on measures of language scores and attendance rates (Gentile and Imberman, 2009).  Reed (2011) found no correlations between school uniforms and academic achievement in a large urban district.

That’s how I see the issue. As always, I ask that you, the reader, provide your perspective and opinion.  If you are considering implementation of a school uniform policy, I hope the references listed below are of assistance. Please suggest additional sources for others who might be considering this issue.

 If school uniforms are not on your radar at this time, I’d still like to know what you think of the issue I have posed here.  How do you negotiate and resolve the differences in educational research when you make decisions?

References

Bodine, A. School Uniforms, Academic Achievement, and Uses of Research. Journal of Educational Research. Vol. 97 No. 2. November/December, 2003.

Brunsma, A. C. , & Rockquemore, K. A. The Effects of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems, Substance Use, and Academic Achievement. Manuscript accepted for publication in The Journal of Educational Research, February 13, 1998 (manuscript #03-97-83).

Brunsma, A. C. , & Rockquemore, K. A. “Statistics, Sound Bites, and School Uniforms: A Reply To Bodine.” The Journal of Educational Research. Vol. 97 No. 2. November/December, 2003.

Gentile, E. & Imberman, S. A. Dressed For Success: Do School Uniforms Improve Student Behavior, Attendance, and Achievement? March 4, 2009. http://www.utdallas.edu/research/tsp-erc/pdf/seminar_paper_imberman.pdf Web June 17, 2015.

 Impact of School Uniforms on Academic Achievement & Student Behavior. http://www.hwdsb.on.ca/e-best/files/2011/03/Uniform-BLAM.pdf.  Web June 17, 2015.

Reed, J. B. Effects of a School Uniform Policy On an Urban School District. http://www.nmu.edu/sites/DrupalEducation/files/UserFiles/Files/Pre-Drupal/SiteSections/Students/GradPapers/Projects/Reed_Joshua_MP.pdf Web June 17, 2015.

School Uniform Toolkit References. Education Endowment Foundation. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/School_Uniform_Toolkit_references.pdf. Web June 17, 2015.

School Uniforms: Pros and Cons Information and Resources. The College and Career Library. 6 August 2011. file:///Consulting/ADI/Indistar%20Connect/Blog%20Posts/June%2017,%202015%20Blog/Pro%20and%20Con%20Assessment.webarchive.  Web June 17, 2015.

Viadero, D. Uniform Effects? Schools cite benefits of student uniforms, but researchers see little evidence of effectiveness. Education Week. January 11, 2005.

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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href="http://www.paulaxtell.com">www.paulaxtell.com</a> and via email at paulaxtell@mac.com.
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