When Atlantic City High School started requiring students to wear standardized uniforms a dozen years ago, it was ahead of a nationwide movement.
In the 1999-2000 school year, 12% of public schools reported that they required students to wear uniforms, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2016, that had grown to 21% of schools.
Now Atlantic City High School has ended the requirement. That’s a good idea and maybe is ahead of the next trend.
Uniforms are more likely to be required by primary and middle schools these days, with just 12% of high schools mandating them. Schools are more likely to require them if they are located in cities and if more than three-quarters of their students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Education officials have hoped that a strict dress code in general, and uniforms in particular, would keep students better focused on classwork and promote safety and security. Gang clothing and fashion rivalry are pre-empted, and strangers are more easily spotted.
But enforcement has been a challenge at the high school level, with nearly half reporting their strict dress codes aren’t enforced. A recent graduate of Atlantic City High School told The Press that enforcement was random and that he never owned the appropriate attire.
A 2016 study in the International Journal of Educational Management that examined test scores and student behavior concluded only that uniformed students “listen significantly better, there are lower noise levels, and lower teaching waiting times with classes starting on time.”
Two other studies downplayed benefits. “Are School Uniforms a Good Fit?” in Educational Policy in 2009 found data on student achievement “do not suggest any significant association between school uniform policies and achievement.” That confirmed and updated a 1998 report in The Journal of Educational Research that found “student uniforms have no direct effect on substance use, behavioral problems or attendance. Contrary to current discourse, the authors found a negative effect of uniforms on student academic achievement.”
So it’s probably for the better that the high school no longer requires uniforms. There are still rules — for example, no clothing with obscene pictures or words, no hats or hoods, no bare midriffs — but students will have considerable liberty with the details of their clean and well-groomed appearance.
Good. Better they learn to be responsible for how they present themselves. They’ll have to do that for many decades after high school.