Philadelphia students will be all dressed up with a place to go beginning in the fall. Hoping to cut down on distractions and add a greater air of seriousness to city classrooms, the Philadelphia school system last week became the largest district in the country to require school uniforms.
In September, the city’s 212,000 students will wear some sort of uniform, under a plan unanimously approved by the school board May 8. Chicago, New York, and other cities have joined a nationwide march toward uniforms, though most such policies leave the decision up to schools.
“We are under no illusions that it’s a silver bullet that is going to make kids smarter,” school board President Pedro A. Ramos said last week. “We do think it will improve school climate. It removes a lot of anxiety and stress from lives of our students and parents.”
Many students in the City of Brotherly Love are less enthusiastic about the idea.
“In theory, it could make the learning environment better ... but there are so many minuses,” said Adam Greenman, a senior at Central High School. “It takes away from creativity and makes everyone like robots.”
The school board will name a committee to spell out what will be considered acceptable uniforms. In its resolution last week, the board promised that the guidelines would “provide maximum flexibility for high school students.” For example, older students might be able to wear different combinations or styles of clothing.
In addition, schools will be given until September 2001 before they or their students are punished for failing to comply with the new sartorial mandate.
The policy also prohibits schools from requiring parents to buy uniforms from one vendor or store, and stipulates that the clothes be inexpensive.
Though some form of uniform will be required, individual schools will be able to determine what that uniform is. Some might choose the traditional dark pants or skirts with white shirts, while other schools may adopt a more casual approach involving, for example, khaki trousers, sneakers, or blue shirts.
Nationwide, public schools and districts have increasingly seen uniforms as a relatively inexpensive and easy way to help curb disciplinary problems. Uniforms also address the concerns of parents who say they spend too much money keeping up with current styles, proponents of the policies say.
And there is some evidence that such policies help.
Since a 1994 mandate that its students wear uniforms, the Long Beach, Calif., system has seen decreases in absentee rates, suspensions, and campus assaults, according to district figures. (“Calif. District Points to Uniforms for Plunging Crime Rate,” Jan. 21, 1998.)
Such evidence has fueled the drive for uniforms.
“Anecdotally, schools have been very pleased about the outcomes— better discipline, more attentiveness, and better self-esteem,” said William Modzeleski, the director of the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program. “I envision this phenomenon will continue.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2000 edition of Education Week as Philadelphia To Require Students To Wear Uniforms