Facts on School Uniforms


School uniforms are a topic of much debate in the public school systems of the United States. Many people feel that uniforms reduce distraction and competition among students, while others think that uniforms inhibit individuality and creativity. Both sides have good points as to why or why not schools should require them of the students, but uniforms have gained in popularity in recent years. Historically, private schools mainly required uniforms, which began in the 16th century in England. Now, there are many pros and cons to wearing uniforms. Understand the debate and effects of uniforms within communities.

Elementary students wearing school uniforms sit on a rug in the classroom.
(Chris Hondros/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

In his book "The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education," sociologist David L. Brunsma gives some history of school uniforms. They were first worn in 16th-century England by children of low social status. While uniforms became commonplace in England, it wasn't until relatively recently that they were popular in the United States. Only private and religious schools required uniforms at first.

In the early 1960s, half of all Catholic schools in the United States had uniform policies. The first time an American public school introduced a uniform policy was in 1987, at Baltimore's Cherry Hill Elementary School.

In the 2011-12 school year, 19.3 percent of public schools required students to wear uniforms, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That was up from 13.5 percent in the 2003-04 school year.

Students in urban schools are more likely to be required to wear uniforms than those in suburban or rural districts, and uniform policies are tied to poverty levels, reports the NCES. As of the 2011-12 year, 47 percent of high-poverty public schools required uniforms as opposed to just 6 percent of low-poverty public schools.

Private schools are much more likely to use uniforms. About 59 percent of private schools required them in the 2011-12 year, up just 1.4 percent from the 2003-04 school year.

The total cost of outfitting your child with school uniforms depends on the number of pieces you buy. In a 2013 survey done by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 77 percent of educators estimated that the per-child, per-year cost of uniforms was under $150. One uniform retailer, Classroom Uniforms, estimated a cost of $156 for four girls' outfits and $140 for four boys' outfits, as of 2015.

Each school or district chooses its own uniform, typically including bottom options in a neutral color such as khaki or black and tops that are either neutral or in the school's colors. Girls may have the option of wearing pants or skirts, and shorts and short-sleeved shirts may be allowed. Students may be required to wear specific shoes or have some leeway to select their own.


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