Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Uniforms and Discipline Problems

I just got around to reading the article under an interesting headline in the Nashville paper yesterday -- "Uniforms may have contributed to safer Metro schools."

Here's the first line of the article: "Fewer Nashville students brought guns, knives or drugs to school during their first year wearing school uniforms, but district officials can't draw a direct link between the clothes and the numbers."

A few things to say about this:

1.) The headline is irresponsible. First of all, there's really no way to establish causality in this case. Second of all, although "serious assaults" may have decreased, "Overall, simple assaults on students — ones not involving weapons or serious injuries — increased 89 percent across the district and 211 percent in traditional high schools." I'm willing to bet that "simple assaults" generally have a much larger influence on school climate and student learning than do the much rarer "serious assaults."

2.) I'm at least 99% sure that the discipline data is meaningless. Which incidents get reported vary so much by teacher, administrator, and circumstance that comparing one year to another most likely means nothing.

3.) I have yet to see any rigorous empirical research that finds that uniforms cause fewer discipline problems, but uniforms seem to be more of gut-level decision anyway. When Nashville adopted the new uniform policy the school board was told that no evidence was available that this would work, but proponents of the plan literally shed tears as they pleaded their case.

I can't blame anybody for wanting kids in chaotic schools to wear uniforms. In such an environment it's entirely logical to think that orderly dress might bring a little more orderly behavior (I certainly would have supported uniforms at my school). But I get the impression that uniform policies are driven at least as much by class and culture. Teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board members are, with few exceptions, college graduates. Which means that, for the most part, they come from middle to upper income homes and neighborhoods. When they see kids running around acting and dressing strangely they get frustrated that the kids don't act more like the way they did when they were kids. So I'm guessing, even if most people won't say it, that what's running through a lot of people's heads is something to the effect of "if they dressed more like us, maybe they'd act more like us."

1 comment:

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