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Volume 12, Number 3
May/June 1996

Perception Versus Reality

School Uniforms and the 'Halo Effect'


American schools seem to be on the brink of a new fashion craze. The trendsetters are not movie stars or grunge rockers. They are school administrators, teachers, and the president of the United States, who, in his 1996 State of the Union message, declared that "if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms."

This endorsement was followed by the distribution of a U.S. Department of Education Manual on School Uniforms to every school district in the country, a presidential visit to the Long Beach (California) School District that pioneered public school uniform programs, and a presidential radio address touting "school uniforms [as] one step that may be able to help break [the] cycle of violence, truancy, and disorder...."

Increasing numbers of American public schools are requiring, or promoting, uniforms. Many resemble the ensembles worn by parochial and private school students. Others are less formal combinations of jeans and T-shirts imprinted with the school insignia. The educational press and on-line discussion groups for teachers and administrators are filled with testimonials to the impact of uniforms. Carl Cohn, superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District, claims that requiring uniforms in the elementary and middle school has led to results that he would not have believed possible.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

D. Behling. "School Uniforms and Person Perception." Perceptual and Motor Skills 79, no. 2 (October 1994): 723-729.

C. Cohn. "Mandatory School Uniforms." School Administrator 53, no. 2 (February 1996): 22-25.

A. Kohn. Punished by Rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Manual on School Uniforms. U.S. Dept. of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools Office, 1996.

Uniform Policy/Dress Codes: School Staff and Parent Perceptions of Need and Impact. Office of Educational Planning and Accountability, District of Columbia Public Schools, 1991.