Do School Uniforms Work?

Years ago you could look in most public school yearbooks and find someone who was voted best dressed. But how can you tell with a uniform dress code? Uniforms are believed to curb a number of problems and Bill Stamps tells us if it's working.
The school colors at Jack Yates High School are red and yellow. Students can wear one of those colors to school each day says Principal Ronald Mumphrey.

"Kids get up every morning, they don't have to concern themselves with trying to out-dress Sally or Joe or Susan, cause we all wear the same thing. We're gonna wear a white or yellow style polo shirt and long khaki pants — no capris, no blue jeans, no open-toed shoes no earrings on the boys, no grills and nobody with a telephone."

Changing the dress policy was one of the first things Mumphrey did when he took over at Yates last year. University of Houston professor Scott Imberman did a study recently on the effect of school uniforms on test scores and student behavior. He found things improved in almost every category.

"We did find improvements for girls in middle and high school in language scores and for both boys and girls we found improvements in math scores after a couple of years It seems students also got in less serious trouble after the uniforms were implemented. After a couple years after the school adopts uniforms, we actually see a pretty substantial reduction in out of school suspensions."

The numbers of suspensions were actually cut in half. None of this surprises principal Mumphrey who says teenager try to emulate what the people they see on TV. And less clothing on television can mean more trouble in the classroom.

girl uniform"Let me put it this way. Here's how it works. I'm a fifteen sixteen year old young man. I'm sitting in the classroom with a sixteen or seventeen year old lady and she's got on clothes that are appropriate for the evening or going to a club. And I have a teacher up in front of me who is teaching mathematics, or science or whatever it may be. Which one am I more interested in: the teacher teaching mathematics or the young lady who has clothes that lack in their coverage?"

Mumphrey says the problem is particularly tough in urban school districts like his. Girls want to dress like a Beyonce video and guys want to wear their pants sagging as low as possible like rappers.

"That creates a tremendous problem and a lot of pressure on the educational environment because kids believe 'I want to be like that person,' but it has nothing to do with learning reading and writing and arithmetic. Nothing to do at all with it. But we as educators have to stay the course and say 'I know this is what's right for this child.'"

While school uniforms don't solve all problems, professor Imberman says he does give it high marks for its effectiveness.

Principal Mumphrey says he almost always has the parents on his side. They like the uniforms because they don't require a lot of shopping and they're usually much cheaper than the designer and name brand stuff students would rather be wearing to school.