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Debate over school uniforms

Debate over outfitting school children into their uniforms started in 1983 in response to the report A Nation at Risk warning America of its eroding educational foundation marred by the “rising tide of mediocrity”. Then in 1987, four years after the disturbing status of the American educational system was detailed, Cherry Hill Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland became the first to implement followed by the Long Beach Unified District in Long Beach, California. In the case of the Long Beach District, the uniform policy yielded positive outcomes such as decreased school violence and increased attendance which prompted former president Bill Clinton in his State of the Union address in 1996 to endorse this policy in public schools for the curtailment of violence and promotion of discipline. Supporters of the movement argued that the policy has the potential of decreasing rate of student victimization (Scherer, 1991), lowering gang violence (Kennedy, 1995; Loesch, 1995), and distinguishing strangers from students within the school premises (Gursky, 1996). Academically, school uniforms enhanced student learning and promoted positive attitudes toward school (Stover, 1990), heightened sense of pride for the school (Jarchow, 1992), high level of student achievement (Thomas, 1994), enhanced school preparedness (Thomas, 1994), and compliance to school ideals (La Pointe, Holloman, & Alleyne, 1992; Workman & Johnson, 1994). On the behavioral aspect, mandatory school uniform policies reduce discipline problems such as suspension, substance abuse, and absenteeism (Gursky, 1996). Moreover, it was supported by various schools because self-esteem of students was increased (Thomas, 1994) and feelings of unity among students were reinforced (La Pointe, Holoman, & Alleyne, 1992).

Though the number of advocates to the school uniform movement continues to grow, opponents argued there is mounting evidence that the policy does not deliver the effects as stipulated by those in favor of the school uniform policy. Key findings of longitudinal analyses from kindergarten to tenth grade found empirical evidence to disprove the claims of the supporters. From the paper of Brusma (2006), it would be gleaned that school uniforms had no impact on school’s climate expect among eighth grade principals’ perceptions that wearing uniforms compromises school safety. Another close inspection of Brusma’s synthesis revealed that the policy had no effect on academic performance of elementary, middle, or high school students save for its negative impact on reading performance. Moreover, evidence points to the policy’s inefficiency in creating a positive learning milieu. In terms of its impact on school attendance, no significant effects were detected among the eighth and tenth graders. Another argument critics have against the policy is its violation of the students’ First Amendment rights… and go way beyond just having a reasonable dress code that promotes safety and decorum in school” (DeMitchell, 2006).

Safety and discipline will be the main issues in the study as an effect of the proposed school uniform policy. Both have become in recent years any institution’s number one thrust amid numerous school-related shootings and gang activities within campus premises. Being mandated by law to protect faculty and students from harm, schools have adopted a variety of strategies and interventions to ensure a safe learning environment. The success of these most importantly necessitate approval and cooperation from the school administration, members of the academic community, the student body, families of students, and community.

Do the perceptions of middle school students in Southport Middle School lean towards the advocates or the opponents of the school uniform policy? This will be the principal question to be explored in this proposed study.

Purpose of the Study:

The purpose of this proposed study is to determine whether implementation of the school uniform policy will produce a perception of a safer and more disciplined learning environment for students of Southport Middle School in St. Lucie County.

Research Questions:

This research will delve on the perceptions of middle school students on the effects of the proposed uniform policy in Southport Middle School. Specifically, it will shed light to the following research questions:

1. What is the profile of the respondents in terms of age, gender, monthly household income, racial background, and membership in groups?

2. How did the respondents perceived the effects of the proposed school uniform policy on safety and discipline?

3. Is there a significant difference in the perceptions of the respondents towards the policy when grouped in accordance to age, gender, monthly household income, racial background, and membership in groups?

Hypothesis:

The above information indicates that school uniform polices appear to have value. Therefore a research on the views of middle students on the effects of this proposed policy in Southport Middle School warrants scientific attention. The null hypothesis that will be tested at 0.05 level of significance is stated as follows: Perceptions towards the effects of the proposed policy on safety and discipline are not influenced by age, gender, monthly household income, racial background, and membership in groups.

Rationale and Significance of the Study:

Numerous published studies on school uniform policy implementation have been successful in meeting some goal or purpose. This study serves as another stepping-stone that will offer insight so that researcher can test the opinions about a policy that may actually be implemented and is of great interest to the concern of the middle school population on perceptions of safety and discipline on a sample population limited to middle school students in St. Lucie County, Florida. A disciplined and safe learning environment should be a priority requirement for a good school, as students who are safe and secure are better students (Donohue 1996). Because of the growing number of violent incidents within school premises, stakeholders composed of instructors, parents, and school administration have considered adopting the uniform policy as a creative strategy to create a conducive learning environment.

Nature of the Study:

In order to provide evidence of a causal link between variables, this study attempts to establish a statistical relationship between following variables. Study implementation will employ the descriptive, quantitative, and cross-sectional design. It will describe the perceptions of the middle school students on the effects of the proposed school uniform policy on safety and discipline in the campus. Five demographic characteristics will be defined and numerous samples will be drawn from the student population in order to conduct an analysis on the views towards the proposed policy. This study is expected to determine the link between the variables the study will ascertain.

Assumptions and Limitations:

For this study, it will be assumed that the respondent population will follow a normal distribution and that classes in each demographic factor will be adequately represented. Since a stratified random sampling method will be conducted, the conclusion could be generalized to reflect the overall view of the middle school population in Southport Middle School towards the proposed policy. Another assumption will be that the respondents will truthfully answer the items in the questionnaire ensuring a high external validity.

One limitation is that the data will be based on the self-report of the respondents based on their perceptions towards the proposed school uniform policy. Only the perceptions of the middle students regarding safety and discipline will be determined and the independent variables will be limited only to age, gender, monthly household income, racial background, and membership in groups. Therefore views of school administrators, teachers, parents, and community leaders are beyond the scope of this study. Although self-reports obtained from self-administered questionnaires serves its advantage since scoring could be done with relative ease, validity and reliability must first be established. It is also possible that the respondents might merely copy the answers of their seatmates during questionnaire administration thereby introducing bias to the data set. Another possibility is that some students might not fully understand the items in the questionnaire considering that the respondent pool will be composed of different racial backgrounds whose English facility is not excellent. To remedy the language barrier, the questionnaire will be translated into their native tongue. To allay any anxiety during test administration, the investigator will emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers.

Chapter 2. Literature Review

Explained in this section are the theories to which this study will be grounded namely, role theory, developmental theory, and the pygmalion effect. This is followed by the important guidelines in implementing a school uniform policy and few studies focusing on the perceptions of students on the school uniform policy.

Theoretical Framework:

Before presenting the theoretical background this study anchored on, it is necessary to define perceptions. According to Lindsay and Norman (1977), it is the process where sensation is interpreted and organized ascribing meaning to the experience. Therefore, a person is bombarded with situations or stimuli then interprets them into something meaningful based on prior experiences. However, what a person interprets may be entirely different from reality. In the study, the middle school students will be asked to perceive what they think about the effects of the proposed school uniform policy on safety and discipline. The Attribution Theory of Heidler (1958) stated that individuals’ actions are deeply rooted on their beliefs whether or not these are legitimate.

Hindin (2007) explained that in the role theory, individuals occupying a specific social position are expected to behave in a certain way. The basis of this theory is the observation that individuals behave in a predictable manner and are driven by social context befitting his or her position. Role is being defined as a “social position, behavior associated with a social position, or a typical behavior”. Using the role theory, middle school students would be expected to have a different set of views pertaining to the implementation of the proposed school uniform policy. Because the respondents are between the ages 12 to 18, they are on the process of integrating their roles as children, students, siblings, into self-image in the face of peer pressure. Garbrecht (2006) emphasized that through self-definition, adolescents integrate values during their childhood, identifications, and perceptions of others towards them. Therefore, middle school students would be assumed to have a negative perception towards the policy since it infringes on their ability to express themselves in their manner of dressing as espoused by the First Amendment rights. Ureyo (2000) stressed that one of the most concrete expression of individuality is clothing since it encompasses an individual’s value system and provides cues on the values one holds. It also indicates a person’s status in a social or group setting. For instance, when an adolescent wears a certain type of clothing line or brand, he or she becomes accepted in a group for the reason that he or she has fitted in with the norms of the group. Research has consistently shown that non-conformity to a group’s dressing standard poses a barrier to one’s involvement and participation in the group. The results of studies show intense competition among adolescents on the latest trend setting styles in clothing (Bellezzo, 1991; Sanchez, 1991; Stern, 1990 as cited in Ureyo, 2000). In an attempt to meet these standards, many adolescents resort to compromising behaviors such as shoplifting, selling drugs, and violence (Richardson, 1991; Sanchez, 1991 as cited in Ureyo, 2000). If the school uniform policy is made mandatory in schools, then social pressure is reduced giving more students’ time to concentrate on their academic pursuits. As a result, students are able to establish lasting relationships not based on the the type of wardrobe used and economic circumstances paving the way for a more realistic value system (Gunter, 1986 as cited in Padgett, 1998).

Another related theoretical backbone to the proposed study is the pygmalion effect or the self-fulfilling prophecy. This concept describes that an individual’s behavior is in consistency with another’s perceptions whether accurate or inaccurate. Therefore if another person’s expectation is made known to one individual, this individual will behave in a manner consistent to the expectation of the individual (Pickens). In relation to this study, perceptions of middle school students may be influenced by individuals comprising the school such as the school administration and the faculty members. Historically, uniforms have been worn for a variety of circumstance. Nurses wear their sanitary whit work attire; athletic teams put on their sport clothes, complete with team logo; and military personnel dress out in fatigues or dress uniform to fit the occasion. Uniforms may be associated with positive or negative roles. According to Majestic (1995), uniforms can serve several functions. First, uniforms define group boundaries, promote group goals, and reduce role conflict. Football team member, for example, do not compete against each other, but they work cooperatively to achieve the goal of winning the game. Second, uniforms can reveal role models. These clothing symbols tell observers that the wearer can be categorized as a student, security guard, or Boy Scout. Third, uniforms legitimize roles in given situations by clarifying membership and role. For instance, persons dressed in fire fighting uniforms would be expected to be firemen who would extinguish firs. Finally, uniforms act as a symbol of group membership. Group members, even if they do not know each other personally, can identify with each other by wearing a similar uniform. In addition, uniforms represent the organization (Chaterjee, 1999) and establish conformity to organizational goals (LaPoint, 1993).

Anecdotal evidence from qualitative studies would suggest approval of principals to the school uniform policy. Take for instance, a principal of Stephen Decatur Middle School, Maryland strongly believed that students will become more behaved during uniform days than on non-uniform days (Viadero, 2005). A principal of Long Beach Unified School District who became a respondent of Felch (1996) said that the implementation of the school uniform policy reduced the number of fights by half from 1,135 in SY 1993-94 to 554 in SY 1994-95. In addition, a principal from Cherry Hill Elementary School reported to Million (1996) increased attendance and focus on school activities and lowered suspensions after implementation of the school uniform policy.

Guidelines in implementing a school uniform policy:

Implementing the school uniform policy whether voluntary or mandatory must be in accordance to the Manual on School Uniforms authored by the Secretary of Education. According to Riley (1996), there are seven steps to achieve a successful implementation of the policy. First will involve the parents whose primary concern is the safety and discipline of their children. Therefore the school administration should coordinate and work closely with the parents since their approval to the program will ensure sustainability of the policy. Second, the policy should respect the religious rights of some students who would be burdened by wearing uniforms. Third, it must have flexibility towards students’ creative expression of students. It must allow wearing or displaying excessive items as long as it will not be a cause for stringent disciplinary action. Fourth, students must be able to exercise their freedom to choose the circumstances in which they will wear their uniforms. Fifth, the policy should not require their students to wear uniforms with substantive political messages. Sixth, the school should extend financial assistance to indigent families. Seventh, the institution should regard and explain to the students that the uniform policy is a part of the school’s integrated safety program.

Literature on the perceptions of students on the school uniform policy:

Studies on the opinion of American students on the school uniform policy are very few compared to that on teachers, principals, and parents. Therefore there exists a research gap on this area. Stanley (1996) determined the perceptions of students, teachers, principals and school administrators in K-8 in the Long Beach Unified School District and noted that there more adults than students perceived a safe school environment because of the implementation of the school uniform policy. Ironically, no clear evidence would substantiate that school-related violence was reduced as a result of the policy. Murray (1997) came to a conclusion that the policy had a significant impact on the school climate as perceived by the middle school students in the Charleston, SC, County School District. In the study of Stevenson and Chun (as cited in Brunsma, 2002), 69% of grades 5-11 in the District of Columbia did not approve of the policy. In a survey conducted involving six different regions in the country, 80% of the respondents voted No to the school uniform policy (Teacher Resource Center 1, 1996-2003). Stockton, Gullatt and Parke (2002) found that elementary and middle school students regarded the school uniform policy to be important compared to high school students. Bruce (2004) conflicted on how they felt about the school uniform policy because the respondents did not enjoy wearing the prescribed uniform but see its usefulness.

Conclusions:

The dearth of literature on the perceptions of students on the school uniform policy has motivated the researcher to add scientific input into this highly contested policy in the American educational system. Moreover, this study will hinge itself on the role theory, developmental theory, and the pygmalion effect to further elucidate the inclination on the perceptions of middle students with regard to the policy.

Chapter 3. Methodology

Research Design:

The study will follow a descriptive, quantitative, cross-sectional method designed to determine the perceptions of the sample population to the effects of the school uniform policy in Southport Middle School. The research is also expected to link the perceptions on the effects of the proposed school uniform policy on safety and discipline among middle school students with demographic variables such as age, gender, monthly household income, racial background, and membership in groups. Responses will be obtained through self-administration of questionnaires to the target key informants. The study will be conducted at South port Middle School which has a student population of 1,216 students.

Sampling Design:

Because the student population in Southport Middle School has a large variability with reference to these selected demographic factors, a stratified random sampling procedure will be carried out to ensure that different categories are fairly represented in the sample. In this sampling procedure, the student population will first divided into homogenous groups with reference to a specific demographic characteristic. From each of the stratum, samples will be drawn randomly. It is therefore necessary to obtain a cross-tabulation of gender and racial background of the population. Once this information is established, percent distribution will be computed by dividing the frequency of each category by the total population. This will represent percent representativeness of each category in the cross-tabulation. After which, the sample size will be determined using through the table of sample sizes. Because the total number of students is 1,216, the number of samples will be set at 291. The percent representativeness in each category will then be multiplied to the sample size to determine the number of respondents under each stratum in the cross-tabulation. Each student will be assigned a number and using a table of random numbers, the samples will be drawn without replacement.

Measures:

The researcher will modify a questionnaire-checklist that determines the perceptions of middle school students on the effects of the proposed school uniform policy on safety and discipline in Southport Middle School using the Comprehensive Assessment of School Environments, School Climate Survey (CASE) and Inventory of School Climate-Student (ISC-S). It will be comprised of two parts, namely: demographic profile of the respondent and the questionnaire proper. In the first section, the student will be asked to encircle the answer that best reflects their demographic information comprising of age, gender, monthly household income, racial background, and membership in groups. In the questionnaire proper, there will be ten questions each for the safety and discipline perceptions. The responses will depend on the students’ degree of agreement or disagreement to the statements using a Likert-type scale as follows: 5- Strongly agree, 4- Agree, 3 – Undecided, 2 – Disagree, 1 – Strongly disagree. The respondents will be directed to read the statements carefully then check the box corresponding their answer. Prior to administration of the data gathering tool, it will undergo face validity and pilot testing. Details of which will be explained in the later sections of the methodology.

Data Collection:

Before the conduct of the study, permission will first be secured from the Dean of the Graduate School after approval of the research proposal by the Oral Examination Panel of the University. After which another letter will be addressed to the Principal of Southport Middle School in St. Lucie County stating the intention of the investigator to conduct the research at the said institution. The researcher shall set a meeting with the school administration and faculty members to discuss the details of the study which will require their cooperation and participation most specifically during data collection. Once the schedule for data gathering will be finalized, list of middle school students which will serve as the sampling frame will be procured from the Principal’s Office so that stratified random sampling would be done prior to data gathering. All the selected students will receive written notifications that they will be part of the school-based survey. In coordination with the classroom advisers, the participants will be asked to proceed to the school auditorium so questionnaire administration can be done at the appointed time. Questionnaires will be self-administered and immediately retrieved to ensure 100% response rate. Responses to the questionnaire-checklist will be entered into the computer system and subjected to the appropriate statistical techniques which are a combination of both descriptive and inferential measures.

Data Analysis:

After administering the questionnaires, responses will be tabulated and analyzed using the appropriate approaches in data analysis. To answer the first objective which is to determine the profile of the respondents, frequency and percentage will be obtained. For the second problem, response means will be computed for individual statements for safety and discipline perceptions. Overall means for both will also be ascertained. In order to interpret the mean in each statement, its verbal description is dependent on the magnitude of its numerical value. If the statement recorded a mean of 1.00-1.80, it will indicate that the respondent strongly disagreed; 1.81-2.60, disagree; 2.61-3.40, undecided; 3.41-4.20, agree; and 4.21-5.00, strongly agree. For negatively worded statements, scoring of items will be reversed. Statistical differences in the means will be determined using Analysis of Variance and t-test for Independent Sample for multiple and two-level variables respectively.

Internal Validity:

This research is expected to test the hypothesis that no significant difference exists in the perceptions of middle school students on the effects of the proposed school uniform policy on safety and discipline at 95% level of confidence by age, gender, monthly household income, racial background, and membership in groups. Thus, there is a high degree of certainty that the outcome is attributed to the variables that will be measured.

External Validity:

The research has high external validity because the sampling method will ensure that representative samples will be obtained from the population. In this way there would be no gender and racial bias that will be introduced resulting from sampling discrepancies.

Peer Review Discussion:

A peer review of the study shall be conducted after completion of this research. The comprehensive critique will be done independently by two experts in educational research.

Expected Findings:

It is anticipated that the null hypothesis will be rejected and the research perceptions of safety and discipline among students are affected by the implementation of school uniform policies, will be supported. According to Jolly (1999) school districts across the country are considering school uniform policies because they appear to provide ready solutions to some of the aspects of school safety, gang violence, weapons in school, and assaults associated with theft of expensive clothing.

Ethical Issues:

To protect from harm the researcher will acknowledge respect for person the participant’s autonomy and obligation to respect that autonomy to protect participants with diminished autonomy from possible exploitation, and example of this would be the children. In this study Beneficence will also be applied, which obligates the researcher to protect participants from harm as well as minimize risks resulting from the research. Confidentiality, privacy, and anonymity: The researcher will make adequate provisions to ensure that participant’s identities will not be revealed during the course of the research or dissemination of study outcomes. Then, the students will be asked to fill the Informed Consent, which may also be needed referring to “Assent” if the potential research participants are children of appropriate aged and have the ability to comprehend it means agreement to participate in research is needed and or waiver of assent due to age if the research involves no more than minimal risk. Finally, Justice, that requires equitable distribution by avoiding selected participants solely because they are accessible or easy to influence.

Conclusion:

This descriptive, quantitative, cross-sectional study seeks to explore the perceptions of middle school students in Southport Middle School on the effects of the school uniform policy on safety and discipline. The data to be collected from the survey which will be the responses towards the modified versions of the Comprehensive Assessment of School Environments, School Climate Survey (CASE) and Inventory of School Climate-Student (ISC-S) shall be analyzed statistically employing both descriptive and inferential tools. Validity of the study will be ensured by subjecting the instrument to both face validity and pilot testing. Ethical issues such as respect, beneficence, and confidentiality shall also be addressed during the course of this study.

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