The Developing Discipline and Self-Concept in Early to Mid-Adolescence

Introduction and Statement of the Problem

Introduction

In America, requiring school uniforms in the elementary grades and high school was originally a legacy of the British educational system. This is a practice maintained to this day in nearly all private and parochial schools (Brunsma, 2004; Sher, 1995). Until the 1980s, the opposite was true in public schools. Since then, there has been a slow but discernible trend towards adopting at least mandatory dress codes.

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The trend accelerated in the mid-1990s beginning with the precedent set by the Long Beach Unified School District, which required uniforms in all its schools in 1994 (Public Broadcasting Service, 1999). Official encouragement at the Federal level commenced in 1996 when President Clinton took the occasion of his inaugural address to support uniforms as a solution to the problem of public school students assaulting each other over designer jackets. And the Supreme Court itself has ruled in supportive fashion (Simpson, 2001).

Background of the Study

Brunsma (2004) may have assembled the most authoritative coverage of school uniform adoption and in the process, dispelled certain exaggerations reported in popular media. Citing a New Haven School study (1988), he reports that there were already at least fifty verifiable cases of individual public schools implementing a uniform policy even in the late 1980s. But he dismissed as media embellishment the claim that no less than 50% of urban public high schools had already adopted a uniform policy the very school year after the aforementioned policy statement by President Clinton.

At the turn of the century, he discovered, the Centers for Disease and Control could find uniforms being implemented in just one-fifth of public or Roman Catholic elementary and middle schools and only half that proportion of high schools. The largest school district in the country, New York City’s, went to a uniform dress code half a decade after Long Beach (Public Broadcasting Service, 1999).

The uniform requirement remains far from universal, owing partly to community and quasi-legal challenges about the restriction on freedom of student choice. As well, school districts have found it prudent to hold consultations with educators and parents before imposing uniforms or some homogenous dress code. On the other hand, proponents have cited the favorable effect on academic achievement, on improved security and dampened gang activity, on drastically reducing peer pressure, and helping families minimize outlays on student clothing.

In general, proposals to implement at least a dress code or outright uniforms in public schools stem from concerns about student safety and academic achievement. Safety embraces the much-publicized (but comparatively rare) shootings, in-campus assault, bullying and theft, as well as exposure to street crime when students are on their way to and from school. Gang-related violence is especially pernicious.

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Since gangs are a fact of life in many urban locales and susceptible students are impelled to display badges, imprinted shirts, caps and other accessories of gang affiliation, administrators believe that uniforms effectively suppress such affiliations. Uniforms effectively stop such displays. Not being in uniform, trespassers intent on harm stand out and can be readily escorted off the premises by vigilant staff.

As the Long Beach Superintendent tells it, the pioneering move to impose uniforms on a district-wide basis was an initiative of parents and community leaders increasingly concerned about the proliferation of gangs, how members were emboldened to disrupt lessons, and the general conviction that having uniforms could immeasurably improve the school environment. The cautious roll-out commenced with three public schools, followed by a second pilot involving 11 elementary and middle schools.

A year after full-scale implementation with 98% compliance in 1994, it appeared that the District was vindicated since suspensions, school fights, muggings and assault against school teachers were all halved compared to the previous year while substance abuse and sexual offenses dropped markedly to one-fourth what they used to be. In addition, incidence of weapons possession and robbery shrank by 20 percent (Public Broadcasting Service, 1999; Children’s World, 1997).

The second, more direct goal of a uniform policy rests on the rationale that high school students, in particular, are better able to pay attention to classroom lessons and cope with academic requirements if peer pressure did not tempt them into distracting dress, accessory fads and ever-more expensive athletic shoes, for example.

Against this ideal of fostering academic excellence is the finding that implementation has been more widespread by type of school and in areas of the country distant from the higher-income Northeast. Re-analysis of the National Center for Education Statistics’ Early Childhood Longitudinal Study revealed that around 19.5 percent of elementary schools nationwide already had a uniform policy in 1998-99. This incidence rose to 27% the following year.

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The disparities by type of school were large. Nearly nine in ten Catholic elementary schools imposed uniforms, as did more than 40 percent of all other private schools. More important are findings about the higher incidence of uniform policies in the West and South, where family incomes are lower, parents have lower educational attainment and minority populations greater (Brunsma, 2004, pp. 77-78).

Statement of the Problem

The above overview and the concededly brief coverage of the literature in Chapter 2 suggest that some parents and students are unconvinced about the benefits of adapting school uniforms. Consequently, they decry the loss of freedom of choice and self-expression that is exhibited in donning favorite clothes, footwear, socks/stockings, jewelry, clothing accessories, hair decorations, even hair length and style. To these core stakeholders, the school seems to prize conformity over surfacing and dealing with, conflict of ideas. Thirdly, it is argued that compliance with dress code merely diverts expressions of individuality to verbal and behavioral abuse against those who have opposing tastes and views.

More to the point, educators and community leaders may have been guilty of holding out uniforms as the panacea for poor discipline, attendance and grades (Zenicke, 2002). After the euphoria of having passed anti-discrimination laws for the workplace, the Bush (senior) and Clinton administrations provided regulatory and tax incentive support for schools that adopted uniforms with the added rationale that disadvantaged students would stand out less. On hindsight, relying on persuasion rather than legal imposition forced school boards into asking parents and, by implication, their children to approve any move into uniforms. It stands to reason that consensus was unlikely in communities already wracked by at-risk families and children.

The problems that any campaign in support of school uniforms must therefore address are:

  • What are the demonstrable benefits that accrue to a policy of requiring uniforms?
  • Are parents and students aware of these benefits and therefore agreeable to complying with a dress code or uniform policy?

Purpose of the Study

Given the dearth of theory and evidence (see Chapter 2 below) that might convincingly bolster the case for mandatory uniforms, the purpose of this research proposal is therefore to:

  • Learn whether uniforms and mandatory dress codes help enhance self-concept and self-efficacy.
  • Trace the mechanisms and concomitant factors by which robust self-concept and self-efficacy contribute to scholastic goals with respect to academic achievement and discipline.
  • Quantify these in such a way as to provide a convincing case for administrators and parents considering a shift to dress codes or uniforms.
  • Probe student perceptions about uniforms and self-efficacy.

Rationale

The rationale for this proposed research lies in advancing the state of knowledge in the Human Services and Educational Management fields. The gap this proposal aims to fill is that of a more rigorously-defined link among enforcement of uniforms, self-efficacy, self-concept, and the presumed benefits.

Research Questions

  • RQ1: Do uniforms discriminate stronger self-concept and self-efficacy?
  • RQ2: How firmly do students believe that conforming with a uniform policy is helpful for either academic achievement or discipline?
  • RQ3: What are the cognitive and affective bases for the attitudes of parents and students towards uniforms?
  • RQ4: How well does a policy of mandatory uniforms correlate with school climate conducive to academic achievement, enhanced self-efficacy, discipline and self-concept?

Nature of the Study

The stated research purpose and questions call for a combination of case studies and cross-sectional cohort analyses. This means the methodology (see Chapter 3 below) must accommodate a mixed-methods approach.

Significance of the Study

If the proposed research establishes that a policy of uniform compliance substantially contributes to, or preponderantly explains the desired outcomes – self-efficacy, academic achievement, discipline, and self-concept – in a way that can be projected to counties of comparable character, other school districts contemplating such a policy will gain more credible support when presenting the plan to core stakeholders.

Definition of Terms

“Uniform” is a standardized outfit, usually in subdued colors emphasizing khaki or navy blue bottoms and white tops. Generally, the bottoms consist of trousers for both genders or skirts for the girls. In some cases, girls are allowed a “skort”, akin to loose shorts extending to the knee. Depending on the season and prevailing climate, blazers may be part of the uniform and sweaters allowed. In parochial and some private schools, the elementary-level uniform may be a blue sleeveless A-line dress over a collared under-blouse.

A “strict dress code” defines those schools where there may be no standardized uniform as such. The basic outfit may be a white or pastel top with trousers and skirts allowed in a choice of subdued colors: black, blue, dark green or dark brown. The leeway given for clothing styles goes hand in hand, however, with strictures such as on skirt lengths, underwear showing, low necklines, and deliberately torn kneecaps. There are also schools in the study area (Hernando County, FL) such as The Challenger K-8 Science and Mathematics School (a Magnet School) that impose a standardized uniform in the elementary grades and strict dress code at the Middle School levels (Robert A. Buckner & Associates, Inc., 2010).

If only minor differences exist in school curricula and teaching methods, “academic achievement” can be defined as the final grade point average for the full school year before data-gathering for this proposed research is launched. Otherwise, the researcher shall use as secondary basis the Florida College Basic Skills Exit Test or Florida Dept. of Education, Bureau of Research and Evaluation database on school grades and adequate yearly progress (AYP).

The second outcome variable of “discipline” may be an index measure combining school data on attendance, tardiness and discipline referrals. Official concern with school violence suggests that the request for summary and individual records of those involved should be supported by a checklist. The checklist scope shall include: “…school-related homicide, assaults with or without weapons, physical fights on school property, threats or other destructive acts…bullying, hostile or threatening remarks between groups of students…gang violence…rape, sexual assault, robbery…aggravated assault…being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property…carrying weapons to school.” (National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, 2002, pp. 1-2).

Self-concept is generally defined as “…the cognitive appraisal one makes of the expectations, descriptions, and prescriptions that one holds about one’s self” (Pajares & Schunk, 2001, p. 241) while self-efficacy has to do with the beliefs individuals conceive and maintain about their capabilities (Bandura, 1977).

In turn, school climate is an all-encompassing variable that embraces not only the quality of the learning experience but also externalities, according to the Center for Social and Emotional Education (2010):

Refers to the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of students’, parents’ and school personnel’s experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures…expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally and physically safe…Students, families and educators work together to develop, live and contribute to a shared school vision. Educators model and nurture attitudes that emphasize the benefits and satisfaction gained from learning.

Each person contributes to the operations of the school and the care of the physical environment. (para 3-9).

Assumptions and Limitations

The principal assumption of this proposed research is also its most stark limitation. That is, the researcher assumes that it is possible to trace some antecedent or at least correlational effect among uniform compliance, self-efficacy, self-concept, academic achievement and disciplined behavior. It may be that administrative and teacher competences are the more influential independent variables but uniforms contribute to a comprehensive solution.

By the same token, measures concurrently taken with the imposition of uniforms – parental cooperation, increased police presence, a bolstered private security force, a firmer stance with students under disciplinary referrals, the Hawthorne effect of knowing a new uniform program was under close monitoring (Paliokas & Rist, 1996) – may be endogenous factors that help achieve the desired outcome of disciplined behavior.

Further, the retrospective and case study approaches planned because the researcher investigates uniform adoption after the fact always bear the risk of selective recall by study subjects. Recall measures doubtless downplay mistakes made and exaggerate agreement with uniform-related measures that remain to this date in the schools subject of the study. Hence, one must extract reliable school records as much as possible.

Literature Review

Introduction

The literature gives credence to several advantages that accrue to implementing uniforms, notably in public schools:

  1. diminished (gang) violence and behavioral problems among adolescents;
  2. unity of the student body and consequently, a much-improved learning environment;
  3. reduced social pressures stemming from socio-economic disparities;
  4. improved self-esteem, particularly about the standing of public-school students in the educational system;
  5. savings to parents from not having to purchase trendy styles and fad brands of the moment;
  6. resolves problems with attendance, truancy, tardiness and absenteeism; and,
  7. superior academic achievement (Brunsma, 2004, pp. 82-87).

Left unasked in the debate between social ideals and parents who opt out is the matter of how exactly uniforms achieve these social benefits.

One avenue of inquiry, largely left untapped, is the relevance of uniforms to the development of self-concept and self-efficacy in teenage students. This concern lies at the intersection of educational management and adolescent psychology for presupposing that secondary-level learning encompasses more than just cognitive development. Rather, middle and high school teachers confront the multiple challenges of equipping pupils not only with the basic academic skills necessary for higher education, but also confidence about their capabilities in these areas, capacity for self-guided learning, and a realistic appraisal of self.

The Inner Self in Psychology Theory

For over a century, psychology has intrinsically focused on the inner self. The discipline was born out of the pioneering work of Freud in psychoanalysis, Jung in analytical psychology and the unconscious self, (Jung, 1989; Pajares & Schunk, 2001) and William James’ extended analysis of the “consciousness of self” (1981). Despite the temporary sway held by behaviorism and pure cognitive psychology, so strongly did the discipline re-focus on the inner self that educational psychology is presently grounded on self-esteem and self-beliefs (Graham & Weiner, 1996).

Despite the promising initial insights based on analysis of the conscious, unconscious and preconscious self, the discipline of psychology was diverted for the first half of the last century by the siren call of behaviorism. First, there was the series of time-and-motion efficiency studies done by Watson. Then B.F. Skinner swept aside all affect and motivation in favor of readily-measured behavioral response to positive or aversive stimuli. Thus did psychology make a bid for “hard science” status.

In the decades after the second global war came the wave of humanistic management, triggered in part by Maslow and Herzberg. The former proposed that humans are motivated by an internally-generated hierarchy of needs, the most basic of which are those for survival while at the apex is self-actualization. For his part, Herzberg stressed that there are “hygiene” factors that merely help maintain work pace and morale, as opposed to “motivation” factors that impel greater effort and loyalty, among others. Clearly, these were models attuned to humans beings in business organizations but that suited a post-war America riding the triple crest of massive production, marketing and distribution to geopolitical success.

For a time, computerization and cognitive theories of psychology narrowed the focus toward the rational mind, skill enhancement and information processing. This coincided with a trend of falling SAT scores and the belief that the quality of secondary school graduates had fallen so far as to degrade American competitiveness in literacy, mathematics and science.

Even then, education research paid attention to the full scope of self beliefs because it was demonstrated over and over again that disparate self beliefs were associated with varied cognitive outcomes, social engagement, and emotional involvement with schooling. Since academic experiences of success or mediocrity presage critical outcomes in adult life, educational psychology continued to formulate and test various models and aspects of the self. Among these dimensions of the self, self-concept and self-efficacy gained pride of place (Byrne, 1984; Bong & Skaalvik, 2003).

Self-concept and Self-esteem

Being an outgrowth of psychotherapy, Freudian and Jungian thought had initially aimed at giving troubled patients insight into the roots of repression and neuroses. Problem-oriented psychoanalysis had provided the foundations of personality theory but the humanistic wave and inward-looking era of the 1960s and 1970s were needed to foster greater attention to self-concept and self-esteem. Accepted as referring to an individual’s understanding of his self, self-concept was dichotomized into the cognitive self-schema and the appraising or judgmental self-esteem.

The origins of self-belief may be traced at least as far back as 1890, when William James used self-esteem to mean the “…self-feeling that in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do” (1890/1981, p. 310 ). Even then, the author already took the evaluative viewpoint in pointing out that success in tasks that need accomplishing serves to elevate how a person feels about himself. And if failure is the initial outcome, then one must adjust by choosing other activities or lowering the benchmark of success.

Very soon after James, Cooley (1902) advanced the construct of self-esteem to that of self-concept based on how one interprets the perceptions others have of him. Hence, he advanced the metaphor of “looking glass self” to support the argument that how others see the individual is the very core of how he defines his sense of self. With behaviorism taking the forefront in the discipline for many decades, it was not till the 1960s that Combs (1962) resurfaced self concept as, very simply, the totality of belief in what one is. In turn, Coopersmith (1967) echoed the Cooley view of self-concept as built around social comparison and feedback, this time specifying that only those involving significant others mattered.

In the contemporary view, the understanding of one’s self that is self-concept springs not only from interpersonal feedback and the Cooley/Coopersmith construct of social comparison but also derives from introspection. The construction of self-concept by comparison can be directed at role models and mentors. But perhaps the most readily observable of these processes is that operative among adolescents, when individuals manifest the effects of peer pressure in making comparisons with their age cohort.

Coping with peer pressure is most difficult when teenagers make comparisons upward, with those superior in ability or external signs of status. It is perhaps easiest to bolster self-esteem and most consoling for one’s self to carry out social comparisons against classmates and friends of lower ability or status. In the long run, however, it is doubtful whether downward social comparison bolsters self-efficacy.

Social interaction inevitably provokes either verbal or non-verbal feedback that confronts individuals with facets of self they had no reason to address or perceive. On their own, persons gain insight into their self-concept from observations about their own behavior and from introspective inference-making.

Since then, the definition of self-concept has become more elaborate while remaining true to James’ conception as totality of self-knowledge. For Coopersmith and Feldman (1974), self-concept came to include “beliefs, hypotheses, and assumptions that the individual has about himself…the view of himself as conceived and organized from his inner vantage…ideas of the kind of person he is, the characteristics that he possesses, and his most important and striking traits” (p. 199).

More recently, Hattie (1992) typified the view of self-concept as the cognitive recognition of all aspirations, descriptors, and prescriptions an individual believes about himself. That such comprehensive insight is not easy to achieve, much less “measure” with the general run of self-administered study instruments, is perhaps worrisome. Beliefs and assumptions about one’s self also happen to overlap with the more evaluative construct of self-esteem. This bolsters the observation (Shavelson & Bolus, 1982) that description and evaluation of the self have not been empirically separable nor may they ever be.

In the 1960s and 1970s, as alluded to, self-esteem occupied a central position in social psychology constructs and the aforementioned theories of motivation. For the first time, consequently, there arose the belief that self-esteem was necessary to academic achievement. If, as Pajares and Schunk (2001) observed in retrospect, academic performance should be viewed as a matter of self-enhancement, then teaching and administrative praxis needed to revolve on developing the self-esteem of students.

Up to the mid-1990s, the relevance of self-esteem to academic achievement seemed ambivalent at best and contradictory at worst. Hansford and Hattie (1982) undertook a meta-analysis of extant self-esteem studies and found that correlations ranged from +0.96 to -0.77. It became obvious that one could not set in place teaching and counseling techniques without any confidence that high self-esteem bore a relationship with superb academic achievement. The perverse notion, that pupils with low self-esteem garnered superior academic outcomes, did not even seem counter-intuitive at all.

Self-efficacy

Recalling that self-efficacy perceptions are correlated with the subjective self-schema, one realizes that such beliefs embody confidence in effectiveness or success. The construct of self-efficacy stems from Bandura’s social cognitive theory having bridged the gap left by operant learning theories.

In behaviorist theory, there is no scope for delayed gratification or for the organism to create new modes of response in the absence of reinforcement. Bandura and Walters (1963) took the first step to close the gap by proposing observational learning and vicarious or self-reinforcement. After a lapse of 15 years, Bandura next asserted that humans are able to arrive at perceptions of their own capability that both guide goal-setting and help exert control over their environment (rather than always responding to it, as operant conditioning theory would have us believe).

Subsequently, this social theorist framed human functioning around self-referent beliefs. Rather than being restricted by positive or aversive stimuli in his surroundings, the self-beliefs of humans enable them to be proactive and to control their thoughts, feelings and actions in some degree. Evidently, his signal contribution was to argue that individuals are more than the sum of their skills and cognitions. Many times, behavior is contingent on beliefs about one’s known capabilities. This body of beliefs the author termed “self-efficacy” (1977; 1986).

The importance of self-efficacy beliefs for educational psychology is that such beliefs guide short- and long-term choices, as well as driving laudable academic accomplishment. With vicarious reinforcement in action, pupils are prone to choose tasks that they feel competent and confident about. Moreover, self-efficacy motivates individuals towards greater output, marked interest and engagement, admirable perseverance at hurdling difficulties, and marked resilience in the face of discouraging grades. The self-efficacious student relishes assignments as challenges rather than threats or insurmountable difficulties.

Given leeway, such a student sets higher goals for class projects and boasts superior commitment (hence the perseverance). Resilience extends to regaining confidence after a setback and attributing failure to such controllable factors as inadequate knowledge, technical skill or degree of effort put into the disappointing result. At the same time, self-efficacy beliefs explain the degree of anxiety and stress attending an activity that students do not feel competent at. Consequently, low self-efficacy is characterized by depression and a myopic approach to finding solutions (Schunk, Hanson & Cox, 1987; Pajares & Miller, 1994).

Self-efficacy also affects the visualization of outcomes and attitudes towards taking on new tasks. Students possessed of superb self-efficacy in their math or writing subject areas approach assignments with every expectation of excellent grades and a wider spectrum of possibilities when they do earn academic success. The opposite is also true. Students with poor self-efficacy already visualize unsatisfactory grades before even starting their course work. Given that pessimistic belief, academic performance suffers and so do prospects after graduation.

Self-efficacy breeds equanimity and effectiveness in point of either self-efficacy for performance or for learning. The former means falling back on prior experience with similar tasks when confronting a new one. But when the task is fairly vague or objectively new, self-efficacy for learning must come into play. This means belief in one’s self based on analogous experiences must come into play. In effect, the self-efficacious individual falls back on confidence about his ability to learn whatever is necessary for success (Schunk, 1996; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992).

Synthesis and Operational Constructs: Self-concept, Self-esteem and Self-efficacy

Traditionally, self-concept and self-esteem were considered universal and homogenous (Pajares & Schunk, 2001). For all that self-efficacy is very specifically defined, in turn, the blurring among all three constructs subject of this paper serves to highlight the importance of individualized attention to pupils. This is the implication of Bong and Skaalvik’s (2003) summing up:

Individuals who are otherwise similar feel differently about themselves and choose different courses of action, depending on how they construe themselves—what attributes they think they possess, what roles they presume they are expected to play, what they believe they are capable of, how they view they fare in comparison with others, and how they judge they are viewed by others.

Conceding that such cognitions, beliefs and perceptions are based on past achievement and reinforcement, mentors must recognize that these lay the groundwork for individual growth and development (Bandura, 1997; Markus and Nurius, 1986).

On carrying out a meta-analysis of extant studies, Shavelson and Marsh (1986) concluded that self-concept was an organized and stable whole, dynamic for being developmental, evaluative for its self-esteem component, empirically differentiable, and most of all, hierarchical. This hierarchy progresses from the general to the specific but is broadly dichotomized into:

Self-perception or overall self-knowledge.

Domain-specific: academic, social, emotional, task/skill and physical facets of the self (Shavelson and Marsh 1986).

In this construction, self-efficacy is tightly interwoven with self-concept. In an academic setting, it is most useful to assess self-efficacy individually for such subjects or domains as languages, history, mathematics, science, art, or music (Pajares & Schunk, 2001). In turn, so-called social self-concepts comprise perceptions of one’s self from feedback given by immediate family, clan, peers at school, spouses and significant others.

The reasoning behind a hierarchical or bounded construction of self-concept is the contemporary view that beliefs about one’s self vary by context and quite without reference to others. An adolescent can quite honestly entertain different self-concepts in his or her differing roles as student, son, sports team member, gang member, or boyfriend. And the role of student itself permits differing self-efficacy and self-esteem by subject area. To accept the hierarchical model is therefore to realize that only the applicable self-beliefs predict behavior in one domain or subject area (Bong & Clark, 1999).

When investigating self-concept/-esteem and self-efficacy in any setting, care must be taken that the study instrument possess construct validity for common, as well as distinctive features. Both areas of self-belief are concerned precisely with perceived competence, refer to success experiences in the past, are sensitive to reflected appraisal based on social comparison, and accommodate multidimensional measures of self-efficacy by domain or subject area. In such a research model, path analysis will show variable effects on such dependent variables as motivation, affect and academic performance. At the same time, it is possible to conceive of self-efficacy being an antecedent to self-concept (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003).

The Challenge of Cause and Effect

One should also concede that the philosophy of the researcher has a significant bearing on model construction. Self-enhancement being a dominant theme in Human Services and Guidance, the direction of cause-and-effect is likely to be from beliefs about one’s self to strengthened academic achievement. If this direction is empirically supported, the ensuing recommendations will then revolve on teaching and administration working towards the goal of optimizing the self-esteem of pupils. On the other hand, a skill orientation posits that enhanced self-concept follows from improved academic work. The implication then is for the school to be singularly focused on scholastic competence.

Where mandatory uniforms stand in all these remains an open question. Along with community and discipline, school uniforms may be intervening or exogenous variables. Certainly, the public debate about more widespread adoption of uniforms in public schools has been marked by allusion to indirect effects (e.g. the halving of the crime rate in the Long Beach Unified District), ideology, and lack of empirical bases.

One platform the debate takes is the longstanding practice of uniforms in the private sector, particularly Catholic parochial schools. Since the claim is made that such schools hold their own academically (e.g. Children’s World, 1997) and there is no denying that public schools themselves have gradually implemented uniforms at least since 1988, compulsory uniforms must be central to “best practice” in the elementary, middle and high school levels. Tying uniforms directly to academic achievement and disciplined behavior may, however, be flawed logic for glossing over common antecedents (e.g. more stringent school standards generally) and for evincing the type of hasty generalization that makes for weak social science. In short, it takes a leap of faith.

On the other hand, there is often what seems well-reasoned but heavily biased argument that fails the test of empirical proof. Authors make specious references to the Catholic tradition of uniforms alongside snide references to some Catholic priests being found out for homosexual pedophilia (Showalter, 2008). Others argue that “regimentation” puts children with experience of divorce at risk because they lose a chance for self-expression and thus, happy self-fulfillment.

From a policy standpoint, the seminal documents for the groundswell of support for uniforms since 1994 consist of the Long Beach Unified School District’s Guidelines and Regulations for Implementing the Mandatory Uniform Policy in Grades Kindergarten through Eight (1994) and the Department of Education’s 1996 Manual on School Uniforms. Both, as it turned out, shared such measures as:

  1. communicating the policy, its intent, and implementation in consultative sessions with parents;
  2. financial aid for those who could not afford the cost of uniforms;
  3. putting in place disciplinary sanctions for non-compliance;
  4. preparing school districts for legal challenges; and,
  5. prudently reviewing the policy annually.

For better or worse, both administrative initiatives afforded parents “opt out” provisions, on grounds of religion, idiosyncratic family opinion (personal whim, in short) or Constitutional right to freedom of speech, petition and assembly. Given that the First and Fourteenth Amendments have been abused to protect virtually any nonconformist stance in society at large, one must count “opt out” as a serious shortcoming, albeit well-meant (U.S. Constitution Online, 2010).

Expense may well be the sole concrete reason for public-school parents to resist a uniform policy. But two reasons render cost a moot point. The one-time cost for a set of uniform and regulation shoes may truly be greater than a set of casual wear but the former is likely to last longer as fads come and go and generate adolescent desire to keep up with classmates. As well, the guidelines in Manual on School Uniforms (U.S. Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools, 1996) specifically leave open the possibility of financial assistance for disadvantaged families.

In policy discourse and media coverage, the egalitarian benefit of school uniforms has face validity and seems intuitively acceptable (Isaacson, 1998). One concedes that such an effect markedly reduces peer pressure based on clothing. In the long run, blurring socio-economic differences early in life may also contribute to easier compliance with non-discrimination laws in social and organizational settings.

Hence, long-run economy and reduction of peer pressure are self-evident benefits of adopting uniforms. Other advantages claimed for uniforms include: readily identifying school affiliation when the student is in the mall or otherwise “hanging out”; greater identification with, and pride in, the school; and promoting a more studious atmosphere rather than the fashion catwalk that students get distracted by (Children’s World, 1997). Left unanswered, for all that, is the question of what egalitarianism and school spirit have to do with strengthening desirable behavior or academic achievement.

The link between uniforms and better academic performance is an indirect one. Everett and Price (1995) found from a survey of students themselves that the smuggling of weapons into schools and the constant threat of violence from bullies or between gangs induce a reluctance to go to school (around 20% of those expressing fear), inattentiveness (about 14%), and absenteeism (10%). Moreover, stark fear is a reason for 9% of habitual truants to stay home. When a public school adopts uniforms, King (1996) maintained that students fear less for their personal safety since intruders stand out for not being in proper attire and uniforms do not give much leeway for displays of gang badges or colors. With greater personal security comes peace of mind and focus on academic matters.

The more intangible benefits claimed for uniforms comprise community, belongingness, school spirit, and an “improved” climate overall (King, 1996; Peters, 1996). For usually being drawn from surveys of stakeholder perception, such contentions are rather more tenuous and provide little by way of logical bridge to the critical outcomes of academics and behavior. Even less clear are the claims reported by Isaacson that uniforms create a better study atmosphere and strengthen self-concept (1998).

School staff and administrators themselves are in favor of mandatory uniforms, principally on the grounds of suppressing violence and hence, improving safety and behavioral discipline. For teachers, the evidence includes 60 percent of the Dade County (FL) local of the United Teachers union in favor of uniforms, (King, 1998). In turn, administrators have been largely in agreement with the rationale that uniforms help reduce violent incidents. The same year President Clinton made the aforementioned inaugural speech, over two-thirds of the 5,000 principals present at the annual convention of the National Association of Secondary School Principals accepted that rationale, doubtless helped along by the positive news coming out of the pioneering effort at Long Beach Unified District.

Nevertheless, there are grounds for proposing that the instant study should aim for empirical reliability with a model incorporating self-concept, self-efficacy, a uniform or strict dress code policy, and academic achievement. For one, Pajares and Schunk (2001) argue for a model where:

  • Self-concept and self-efficacy are antecedents for academic achievement;
  • Besides mediating the role of other influential and predictive variables like past achievement and mental ability;
  • Must be hierarchical in concept, i.e., separately identify domain- and subject-specific competences; and,
  • Employs path analysis to trace unidirectional and reciprocal relationships.

Study Instruments

A search of the literature yields sparse examples of standardized study instruments. Samuels (2003) employed the Stanford Achievement Test, levels 8 and 9 to measure the dependent variable of academic achievement while constructing a set of scales to assess agreement with the effects of uniforms on all dependent variables of concern. In turn, Kaffer (2001) did a re-assessment of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) annual sample survey of grades 4 and 8 students throughout the nation. However, NAEP cannot be used as secondary data for county-level analysis because of the limited sample size per county and the fact that sampled students take only one of the two tests each time. Hence, NAEP does not provide school-level data.

Third, Rodriguez (2005) employed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale to test for differences among students who had to wear uniforms or not. The results were not, however, statistically significant.

Summary and Implications

Available evidence has tended to be indirect. Studies reviewed rely on establishing antecedents and post-hoc results without necessarily accounting for intervening or concurrent variables that may have contributed to the outcome.

There are possible concomitants – enrollment growth, funding availability, general safety in the surrounding community, parental involvement, principal’s gender, school as magnet, choice, having clear missions and visions – that merit passing mention but are not rigorously measured.

Other measures to curb violence and improve safety include security guards, metal detectors, locked door policies, limited restroom time, teachers patrolling hallways. And still the questions bear asking, “Do uniforms co-exist with zero-tolerance policies?” and “What effects do uniforms have on self-concept and self-efficacy?”

Methodology

Introduction

This chapter defines the rationale for the recommended mixed-methods approach, the information each study instrument will contribute toward the analysis of crucial schooling outcomes, the sampling strategies required for a reliable cross-section of the Hernando Country universe, and the data analysis techniques necessary to resolve every key research question.

Researcher’s Philosophy and Overview of Approach

A recommendation for a mixed methods design rests primarily on the stated research purposes, the nature of the primary and secondary data to be gathered, and advanced data analysis techniques that bolster the goal of empirical rigor.

Recall that the research purposes stated in Chapter 1 (recapitulated below) essentially seek to include a policy of mandatory uniforms among the antecedents and independent variables that influence in some way the critical outcomes of academic accomplishment and disciplined behavior.

Learn whether uniforms and mandatory dress codes help enhance self-concept and self-efficacy.

Trace the mechanisms and concomitant factors by which robust self-concept and self-efficacy contribute to scholastic goals with respect to academic achievement and discipline.

Quantify these in such a way as to provide a convincing case for administrators and parents considering a shift to dress codes or uniforms.

Probe student perceptions about uniforms and self-efficacy.

On the face of it, the entire body of data is quantitative. This is true to the extent that checklists can be prepared in advance to facilitate data-gathering for the case study. However, it is also very likely that the researcher will not have anticipated all matters of import to school climate and disciplined behavior. Certainly, the use of standardized study instruments and retrospective analysis of school data do not necessarily proceed in independent (parallel or sequential) fashion.

After obtaining permission for, and examining patterns revealed by academic performance, school violence, and business climate, it will likely be the case that the researcher will need to augment her understanding of the information by carrying out unstructured depth interviews with school administrators and academic department heads. This is exactly the kind of concurrent triangulation design that Creswell (2009, p. 210) anticipates in certain mixed-method approaches (see also Fig. 1 below).

Concurrent Use of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Approaches.
Figure 1: Concurrent Use of Quantitative and Qualitative Research Approaches.

Considering the stage of inquiry into the benefits and drawbacks of school uniforms, one defers to the rationale offered by Trochim and Donnelly (2008) that mixed methods designs are appropriate about midway between naturalistic inquiry and experimental testing. The spate of research that has taken place since the Long Beach Unified district-wide implementation means the investigation of school uniform effects is already long past solely naturalistic inquiry.

On the other hand, the sheer diversity of school populations – inner-city versus suburban and rural, affluent Northeast versus economically-disadvantaged South and West – means a great deal of reliance on cross-sectional research and limited ability to formulate designs that can be projected to the national universe of student bodies. By the same token, the proposed research does not envision venturing into the solely quantitative investigations of meta-analysis or pure mathematical modeling.

Patton's (2002) Integrated Model of Measurement, Design and Analysis
Figure 2: Patton’s (2002) Integrated Model of Measurement, Design and Analysis (Source: as cited in Trochim and Donnelly, 2008).

Hence, as Creswell (2009) would recommend, the stage is set for the applicability of mixed approaches.

Seeking to understand different aspects of the problem, the investigator proposes to undertake collection and retrospective analysis of secondary data, primary data collection via administration of standardized measures of school climate and self-belief, and a quantitative survey of parental and student perceptions concerning uniforms.

Theoretical Framework and Research Design Strategy

Quantitative primary and secondary data collection are the basis for empirical rigor since the study posits a policy of mandatory uniforms as one influential variable and the critical outcomes of academic achievement and disciplined behavior as the key dependent variables. All other things equal, it is hypothesized that academic achievement and discipline are better in schools that adopt a strict uniform policy.

The conceptual model that presently guides the proposed research may be visualized as follows:

Conceptual Model of Relationships.
Figure 3: Conceptual Model of Relationships.

Variables A and B are antecedents because they are in force before the researcher implements the investigation. On the other extreme, the “Outcomes” side, this proposed research is concerned with two major dependent variables, I and II. The core variables of concern are highlighted in blue: a mandatory uniform policy, self-efficacy and self-esteem. In turn, the critical outcomes are set off in red.

The self-beliefs variables 2 and 3 are hypothesized to be independent variables for academic achievement. The double-headed arrow between academic achievement and self-concept bespeaks a reciprocal relationship (Marsh & Yeung, 1997; Wigfield & Karpathian, 1991).

Note that uniforms are hypothesized as exogenous to both self-efficacy and self-esteem in this model. Instead, mandatory dress codes and uniforms comprise just one intermediate outcome of school policy and simultaneously one influential variable on reducing visible presence of juvenile gangs and lowering the threshold for classroom rowdiness. Hence, uniforms indirectly predispose to more disciplined behavior that is in turn a necessary condition for improved academic achievement.

But uniforms cannot per se enforce discipline. The proposed research will test empirically for other manifestations of sound educational management and a “zero tolerance” policy, especially for the interrelationships among them. The case study component of this study will validate the presence of security measures and a positive school climate that may combine to at least promote increased perceptions of personal safety and, in turn, regular attendance and reduced tardiness. Subsequently, attendance is expected to be one signal of disciplined behavior and a necessary antecedent for doing better academically.

The core task, therefore, is to investigate whether average term-end grades are higher and average disciplinary referrals lower in schools that mandate uniforms or a strict dress code. At the same time, the proposed study will employ standardized self-esteem and self-efficacy scales to test the relationship with academic achievement.

Connoting compliance or resistance, secondly, stakeholder attitudes comprise a potent modifying variable. This responds to the literature review finding that, given “opt-out” loopholes, some parents will accede to importuning of children to request exemptions. The data collection methods will therefore include a survey of perceptions about uniforms. This is expected to yield attitudinal data that explain non-compliance or otherwise moderate the “causal” effect of a uniform policy, particularly in public schools where there is at most a mandatory dress code.

There being no other recourse for finding and extracting information about the possibly relevant modifying variables listed above, case studies will comprise the third methodological component. This means approaching each of six targeted schools in all (see “Sampling Design” below) and soliciting the kind of cooperation that will permit administration of test instruments and access to consolidated student records. Though time-consuming, the case study component aims to discover whether hypothesized intervening variables reinforce or otherwise discriminate superior academic achievement and discipline.

Research Questions and Hypotheses

Proceeding from the research purpose and questions formulated in chapter 1 and relevant learning in the literature review, the null hypotheses that shall be tested in the proposed research are as follows:

  • H01: There is no difference in self-concept profiles between schools that impose a policy of student uniforms or not.
  • H02: There is no difference in average self-efficacy between students attending schools that impose a policy of uniforms or not.
  • H03: There is no difference in average academic achievement between schools that impose a policy of student uniforms or not.
  • H04: There is no difference in on-campus offences, other disciplinary infractions and total disciplinary referrals between schools that impose a policy of student uniforms or not.
  • H05: There is no difference in either academic achievement or behavioral outcomes across hypothesized intervening or independent variables such as socio-economic segments, family integrity, race, occupational background of parents, health status or administrative practices of the schools in question.
  • H06: Parents are indifferent to school policy on uniforms.
  • H07: Students are indifferent to school policy on dress code and uniforms.

Study Instruments and Operationalizing the Variables

The principal study instruments and their information coverage are as follows:

Table 1: Proposed Schedule of Study Instruments.

Information Required Study Instrument Comments
Academic achievement Past-three-year trend for average term-end grades
Possibly augmented by:
Florida College Basic Skills Exit Test
Or
Florida Dept. of Education, Bureau of Research and Evaluation database on school grades and adequate yearly progress (AYP)
For Grade 12, per test school (Florida Dept. of Education, n.d.)
Behavioral Discipline Past-three-year trend for disciplinary referrals:
  1. Absenteeism/truancy
  2. Tardiness
  3. Fights
  4. Altercations with teachers and administrative staff
  5. Vandalism
  6. Bullying
  7. All other offenses proscribed by the school, including violations of the uniform policy
Secondary data collection, integral to case study method.
Uniforms Mandatory uniforms or
Mandatory dress code or
No dress code at all
Uniform Perceptions Survey (to be created)
Case study, observation
Self-Esteem Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSE) Global Self-Esteem
Information Required Study Instrument Comments
Self-Efficacy Writing Self-efficacy subtest

Math Self-efficacy

To be adapted from Pajares, Miller, and Johnson. 1999
From Zimmerman and Bandura, 1994
Self-Concept Academic Self-Description Questionnaire I & II (writing and mathematics) Marsh, 1999a; 1999b
School Climate Comprehensive Assessment of School Environments (CASE-1987) The average internal consistency reliability of the climate subscales is 0.81, with a range from 0.67 to 0.92. The average reliability of the Student Satisfaction Survey subscale average is 0.81, with a range from 0.76 to 0.83. The Parent Satisfaction Survey average is 0.85, with a range from 0.72 to 0.92.
NASSP, 1987

Sampling Design

The universe for this proposed study consists of all Hernando County basic educational institutions. These comprise, at last count, ten elementary schools, one K-8 Magnet School, five middle schools, five high schools and one charter school, all public (Robert A. Buckner & Associates, Inc., 2010). There are also at least eight private and parochial schools, four of which are K-12 institutions and two more K-8. The proportions that impose a strict dress code or uniform policy vary by segment but it is sufficient for the purposes of this study that there is at least one school with a uniform policy in each of four type/level analytical segments covered. In all, the research design calls for soliciting the cooperation of 12 schools:

Table 2: Proposed Sample Breakdown.

UNIFORM STATUS
NONE DRESS CODE UNIFORM
PUBLIC Middle/HS 1 1 1
PRIVATE/ PAROCHIAL Middle/HS 1 1 1

Data Collection Procedures

On approval of this Proposal, checklists shall be formulated for both the retrospective and case study components of the study. For these, obtaining cooperation is the paramount concern. One anticipates that the reputation of Capella University and an endorsement in writing will be immeasurably helpful. These instruments themselves are so factual that questions of validity and reliability are unlikely to be issues. In the field, mass administration for one class of Grade 12 students at a time is likely to offer the most convenient mode of data collection.

Ethical Issues

The investigator will ensure the privacy of all study participants by assuring them, first of all, that the study is about the county as a whole and their individual participation is merely to be representative of school administrators, teaching staff, parents and middle school students the area. This point will be stressed both in recruitment and the verbal introduction to the administration of the standardized self-belief scales.

Preliminary discussions with school heads will be necessary with respect to identifying the individual schools that make up the 3 x 2 research design. Obviously, face validity and policy response could be enhanced if the individual schools that comprised the sample were identified.

Field and/or Pilot Testing

The Uniform Perceptions Survey will be subjected to pilot testing for comprehension with a small sample of public and private middle school students. After full-fledged administration, internal consistency (Cronbach’s α) shall be calculated and reported.

Data Analysis Procedures

Data from all three methods in use shall be subjected to encoding checks, cleaning for outliers and simple statistical validation. In addition, triangulation and corroboration from at least one other source will be sought in the course of the case study, given that one is soliciting judgment calls and wanting to make the institution look good is always a tempting source of bias.

The principal stages of data analysis shall be:

  1. One-to-one significance testing for, employing t tests, for differences by uniform regimen in mean total scale scores on the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale (RSE), Writing Self-efficacy and Math Self-efficacy subtests, and the Academic Self-Description Questionnaire I & II (writing and mathematics self-concept).
  2. ANOVA for differences across the 3 X 2 groups on all four scales, as well as on the academic achievement scores and weighted discipline referral or disciplinary infraction levels.
  3. Multivariate ANOVA for parental and student response on the Uniform Perception Survey.
  4. Logistic regression and factor analysis on scores from all standardized test instruments, the Uniform Perception Survey, academic achievement scores, discipline indicators, the socio-demographic and administrative practices covered by H05 above. At least two runs of logistic stepwise regression will be necessary to estimate predictive value of the several independent, intervening and exogenous variables on academic achievement and behavioral discipline.
  5. Lastly, the researcher will test the feasibility of structural equation modeling to define path analysis and temporal relationships in the conceptual model (

Limitations

Given the small universe of schools in the county, it is highly unlikely that the investigator will be able to obtain matched groups across public-private, by level, and across uniformed campuses or not. Another significant limitation lies in having to obtain consent from the targeted schools.

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