Board, principals will review uniform policy

Sometimes a shirt is just a shirt.

And with little or no evidence to support their effectiveness, the same could be said for school uniforms.

That leaves Richmond County school board members once again talking about easing its policies. In a special called meeting today, the board will review the uniform policy and discuss the matter with middle school principals.

"I can't see where it helped," said board member Helen Minchew, who favors a strict dress code instead. "I would just like to see (the policy) dropped."

The "most convincing, high quality" studies found no lasting effect from what children wear to school, said John Hoge, a University of Georgia associate professor of elementary and social studies education.

In 2003, Dr. Hoge reviewed studies about school uniforms when writing the chapter to a book, Real World Investigations.

"Schooling is quite complex," he said, adding many people expect to make a change or two and get big returns.

Absent anecdotal reports of success, the "bottom line" is that school uniforms don't raise achievement or decrease behavior problems, Dr. Hoge said.

Schools reporting improvements, he said, likely are experiencing a short-term change referred to as the "Hawthorne effect."

"Anytime you change anything in a school, you can get a temporary blip," he said, but in a few years it will go away.

"The only thing I feel is potentially positive about the school uniform movement is that it gives kids the chance to disguise their socioeconomic status," he said.

But even that, Dr. Hoge said, is iffy because children often know their classmates' backgrounds.

On top of that, an unintended consequence of a uniform policy is often bureaucracy and policing, he said.

In Richmond County, principals should be given the flexibility to enforce the uniform policy if it works at their respective schools and not to enforce it if it doesn't, school board Vice President Joe Scott said.

"There are some schools that are successful with it and some that aren't successful with it," he said.

Mr. Scott pointed to the alternative school as a place where the uniform policy is working. Every child at the school is in uniform and it helps with behavior, he said.

Today's discussion isn't the first about the uniform policy. In July 2005, Mrs. Minchew called for a review of the policy, calling it a burden for teachers and staff members to enforce.

Reneta Sikes, who has a son and a daughter in Richmond County schools, is glad to hear the board is reviewing the uniform policy, but she said it should be reviewed for all schools and not only middle schools.

Last summer, she collected more than 300 signatures in hopes of convincing the board to change the policy.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

The Richmond County Board of Education will meet with middle school principals at 5 p.m. today to discuss the uniform policy. The meeting will be at the board's central offices, 864 Broad St.