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Uniform findings

After administrators in Long Beach, Calif., hailed the beneficial effects of having their students wear uniforms, schools and policymakers rushed to embrace the idea.

Among the districts that now allow schools to require uniforms for their students are Baltimore, Chicago, Miami-Dade County, and Phoenix. Even President Clinton endorses the concept.

But can uniforms really bring about the kinds of improvements that their proponents claim? Do they lead to decreases in drug use and behavior problems among students? Do they increase attendance and achievement?

The answer, says a report in the September/October issue of The Journal of Educational Research, is probably not.

David L. Brunsma

Researchers David L. Brunsma and Kerry A. Rockquemore analyzed data on nearly 5,000 10th graders who took part in a federal study that began in 1988. They adjusted the numbers to account for factors that might skew the data, such as poverty or the high proportion of Catholic schools in the sample.

And they determined that sophomores in schools that require uniforms were no less likely than their casually dressed peers to get in trouble in school, to fight, smoke, drink alcohol, or use illegal drugs. And they were no more likely to attend school regularly or to get higher test scores.

In fact, the numbers showed that uniformed students' achievement scores were slightly lower. But the difference, the researchers added, was very small.

"Requiring school uniforms is like cleaning and painting a deteriorating building," says Mr. Brunsma, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. "It will grab a community's attention and grab students' attention, but that will fade away if the excitement about education isn't followed up by some real reform efforts."

School transitions

Moving up to a bigger school full of older students and new challenges can be a daunting experience for any child. But some school transitions are harder than others, a University of Missouri researcher says.

John W. Alspaugh

Using data from 48 small and rural districts in Missouri, John W. Alspaugh studied how moving up to middle school or high school affected achievement.

The districts were divided into three groups based on the way the schools were configured within them. One group consisted of 16 districts, each with a single K-8 school and a high school. A second group of 16 districts each contained one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. In the remaining districts, students from several elementary schools were funneled into one large middle school and one high school.

Some studies, drawing on either grades or testing data, suggest that students may suffer a temporary setback in academic achievement when they move up to a bigger school.

To gauge the magnitude of students' learning losses for the new study, Mr. Alspaugh compared how much students' scores on state-mandated tests deviated from the state average as they moved from 5th to 6th grade and from 8th to 9th grade.

He discovered that:

  • Students in middle schools suffered greater learning losses as they went from 5th to 6th grade than children in K-8 schools.
  • The losses were greater in districts with a single middle and high school and numerous feeder elementary schools.
  • All students' scores dipped in relation to the state average when they entered high school.
  • The declines at the high school level were highest for districts where students had undergone two transitions--from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school.
  • Dropout rates were higher in districts with middle schools instead of K-8 schools.

Mr. Alspaugh, a professor of education at the university's Columbia campus, says his findings may help guide districts on how best to organize their schools.

"I believe that the most effective schools are ones that are relatively small, where students have a minimum number of transitions, and all students move as a group to the next grade level," he says.

His report appeared in the September/October issue of The Journal of Educational Research.

'Triarchic' intelligence

A study in the Journal of Educational Psychology suggests that children really learn more when taught to their differing intellectual strengths.

Robert J. Sternberg

Yale University psychologist Robert J. Sternberg and his colleagues conducted two experiments to test his theory of "triarchic intelligence." The theory holds that intelligence comes in three parts: analytical intelligence, which is used, among other purposes, for analyzing, judging, and comparing; creative intelligence, involving imagining, discovering, and inventing; and practical intelligence, or "street smarts," used for putting ideas into action. ("Get Smart," Nov. 30, 1994.)

First, the investigators trained groups of 3rd and 8th grade teachers in North Carolina and Baltimore. For some of the teachers, the seminars consisted of brushing up on traditional teaching skills. Others were taught skills for teaching critical thinking, and the last group received training on teaching to students' analytical, creative, and practical abilities according to Mr. Sternberg's theory.

The researchers then used a variety of methods to test how much students learned when the teachers returned to their classrooms. Students took traditional multiple-choice tests, completed tasks designed to demonstrate what they had learned, and answered test questions grounded in the three forms of intelligence.

On every measure, the students taught according to triarchic theory did better than the other groups, the report published in the journal's September issue says.

The researchers' conclusion: At the very least, triarchic teaching is an idea worth pursuing.


Vol. 18, Issue 11, Page 28

Published in Print: November 11, 1998, as Research Notes
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