As students across the U.S. head back to public school, more of them will be wearing uniforms than ever, Quartz reports.
Using data from Prosper Insight and Analytics, Coresight Research — which surveys adults with school-age kids — found that 26.1% of U.S. students are wearing uniforms to school, up 1.1% from last year and continues a consistent upward trend that’s spanned more than a decade.
Schools require uniforms for different reasons: Quartz notes that New York City’s Success Academy, for example, uses them as a practical, cost-effective option to create a sense of community. But Coresight Research CEO Deborah Weinswig tells the publication, “[Uniforms] restrict individuality, they’re expensive, they’re too old-fashioned, they don’t follow any of the current fashion trends and they aren’t flattering.”
For much of the time they’ve been around, uniforms have been a consistent matter of debate among students and parents. On one hand, uniforms make it easier for students to get ready in the morning, when they don’t have to worry about what to wear. In schools like Success Academy, which boast a racially and ethnically diverse population, uniforms are said to unite the student body, according to Quartz, and they remove a sense of peer pressure that comes with a need to keep up with what styles are trending. Plus, they can save families money, Parade reported.
Scholars have noted that uniforms have sometimes been used as a means to reduce gang violence and other similar incidents. As President Bill Clinton said in his 1996 State of the Union address, “If it means teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.”
There are schools with uniforms that saw less violence over a period of time, but they struggled to prove the uniforms were the reason behind it.
Additionally, there are undeniable drawbacks of this enforced dress code. Uniforms keep students from being able to express themselves as individuals by picking out what they wear to school. And they’re still not always affordable for poorer families, The Guardian reported.
Uniforms are another part of schooling that’s been glamourized repeatedly in entertainment: From classics like "Dead Poets Society" to teen TV series like Gossip Girl, when we think of uniforms, we picture rich, private school kids wearing preppy polos and plaid skirts. But a lot of the time, uniforms are school policy in low-income areas, and they’re not at all glamorous or a symbol of high status. In fact, some say they marginalize poor kids.
The bottom line is there’s no clear conclusion on school uniforms’ effects, and the perspective can drastically shift depending on who you talk to. As a result, there isn’t one right or wrong answer for whether schools should require students to wear them, and administrators and educators should make the decision that makes the most sense for each school and its community.