On Thursday night, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors passed a district-wide Milwaukee Public Schools uniform policy.
While some folks believe that uniforms help build community and can have a beneficial effect on academics, others see them as forced conformity and erasing individuality. Research provides mixed data on the benefits of uniforms.
Supporters say uniforms help prevent attire-related bullying, but opponents argue that administrators and teachers should deal with the bullying itself rather than removing the surface cause and ignoring the underlying attitudes that lead to bullying.
Some might argue that the policy is a "fix" for a problem that doesn’t exist, because MPS schools already have dress codes and, even more importantly, have a mechanism for adopting a uniform policy.
In fact, 51 district schools – nearly a third – have already adopted uniforms (tick the box "uniforms" here to see a list). But this new policy is a blanket approach that now requires schools to opt out, rather than opt in.
Here is what you need to know about the new MPS "Uniforms and Student Dress Code" policy.
- The policy goes into effect at the start of the 2017-18 school year.
- The policy applies to all MPS schools.
- The policy does not apply to summer school and the new, so-called "J-Term" summer credit recovery program.
- The policy underwent a number of changes, which you can see in this document, which scores out an earlier draft.
- The policy imposes "Basic Uniform Guidelines," which can be read here. Those directives include things like "Full-length pants, cropped pants, cargo pants and straight-legged capri pants are permitted. Denim jeans, pedal pushers and bell bottoms are not permitted."
- Schools will "design" their own uniforms based on these guidelines.
- School principals are charged with finding the lowest-cost uniforms for their schools.
- Economically disadvantaged students will get financial help to buy uniforms.
- Parents will be informed of each school’s uniform policy at least three months before the first day of school (Sept. 5, 2017 for traditional calendar schools).
- Schools may opt out of the uniform policy if at least 66 percent of the school community opposes it.
- Schools have until April 1 to opt out for the upcoming school year.
- Parents and guardians may exempt their child from the policy without penalty of any kind.
- Speaking of penalties, there are none for non-compliance: "The school and its staff shall ensure that no student is penalized academically or otherwise discriminated against because the student’s parent or guardian has chosen to exempt the student from complying with the uniform policy. Likewise, violation of the school uniform policy shall not affect a student’s academic or conduct grade or participation in extra-curricular activities."
Considering numbers 10-13 above, the policy feels like it's no real policy at all. So, why do it? Simple: market share.
There is a perception among many parents – misguided, as you can see here – that voucher (and some charter) schools, which typically require uniforms – outperform public schools, and they therefore associate uniforms with success.
With the expansion of voucher programs and charter schools in Milwaukee, there is more and more pressure on public schools for funding. Because of the per-pupil method of funding Wisconsin schools, the district must work harder than ever to keep kids enrolled in, and bring kids back to, MPS.
As much as we think per-pupil funding means that the money for each student is to educate that student, the reality is that the funding for each pupil combines to create an economy of scale that allows the system to work.
Therefore, if uniforms can help the bottom line and at the same time make improvements in some individual schools' cultures in terms of building community and reducing bullying, they'll be seen as a success.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.