In an effort to improve student decorum and reduce distractions, school districts in the Northeast and elsewhere are increasingly turning to uniform or dress code policies. While the established research has concluded that such polices make little discernable difference in student performance or behavior, a new, small-scale study of schools in Ohio has found that schools requiring uniforms have higher graduation rates and fewer disciplinary problems. The author of that study, Virginia B. Draa of Youngstown State University, says uniforms help blur class lines between students and reduce peer-pressure issues. They may even heighten teachers’ expectations of students, she speculates. Still, some families see uniform policies as repressive, expensive, and no fun. “You live in America, where you’re supposed to have freedom of choice,” complains a uniform-resistant father of five in Bayonne, New Jersey.
Meanwhile, many young teachers are finding that they, too, have less than absolute freedom in what they can wear to school. In response to gradually blurring standards of professional dress, school districts in Northern Texas, to take one example, have implemented new guidelines on teacher attire. Such policies range from general discussions at new-teacher orientations to, in the Mesquite district, a 27-slide PowerPoint presentation detailing appropriate dress. Citing items such as body piercings, flip-flops, and revealing t-shirts, school leaders in the region say it was getting difficult to distinguish some teachers from students. And while some parents and teachers contend that educators can teach just as effectively in flip-flops and jeans, others suggest there are also important issues of perception involved. “While Americans are notoriously informal in their dress, … I think teachers should be perceived as professionals and dress professionally,” said Bob Davis, a teacher at Berkner High in Richardson, Texas.