Originally created 08/05/99

Worth of uniforms questioned



Pretty is as pretty does, not as pretty looks.

That's the view of some school-watchers who see uniforms as merely a Band-Aid solution -- and not a particularly good one -- to behavior problems in schools.

Despite a trend toward school uniforms, there's no hard-and-fast evidence that the regimented outfits curb bad behavior.

"They may not do any harm, but they certainly aren't going to be any effective solution to discipline problems in schools," said Richard Ingersoll, a psychology professor at University of Georgia in Athens who also taught high school. "Students in uniform are just as apt to misbehave."

That runs counter to the accepted idea that uniforms encourage better behavior by putting students in a working frame of mind. School officials offer anecdotal evidence, but no studies prove it.

In fact, a study by the Educational Testing Service, released in October, found that school uniforms have no direct effect on students' behavior, said June Million, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, which is preparing a packet for schools interested in uniforms.

The organization doesn't take an official stand on uniform policies but says the community should make the decision, not just top administrators, she said.

"Many parents think it's wonderful," she said. "I'm amazed by the trend, but it is a trend. And it's only been happening during the past few years."

Long Beach, Calif., the first school district in the United States to institute a school uniform policy, reports that school crime has dropped by 76 percent since 1994, and incidents of school vandalism fell from more than 1,400 to fewer than 100 per year, according to a report from the national principals organization. But some educators have suggested that other factors -- including violence prevention courses, smaller classes, tighter security and increased attention when uniforms are introduced -- encourage better behavior.

Uniforms aren't the reason for academic and disciplinary success, said Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"That's like saying the rooster crows when the sun comes up, so the rooster crowing brings up the sun," she said.

Other factors, such as an increased emphasis on academics and weeding out students who are disciplinary problems, are more likely to guarantee an elite academic atmosphere, she said.

"Uniforms may not be a bad thing, but they alone are not going to solve the problem of student misbehavior," Dr. Ingersoll said. "They need to give teachers some of the same authority parents have. When I was teaching, I got tired of the back talk and the disrespect, the theft and the vandalism. But there was very little I was allowed to do. If someone misbehaved in class, I had to wait until after class to deal with it and file a report with the administration."

Added Ms. Seagraves: "We are very troubled and concerned about our children, and we are looking for easy answers. But there's no evidence that a school uniform is the answer."

Alisa DeMao can be reached at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.