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Media Contacts

Martha McCarthy
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Shirley Aamidor
School of Education, Kokomo

Jonathan Plucker
Center for Evaluation and Education Policy

Nicole Roales
IU Media Relations

Learning Matters

News tips about education from Indiana University

August 2, 2006

The school dress code battle continues. An Indiana University school law expert expects students to continue challenging their schools when it comes to T-shirt slogans. Disputes over school dress codes surface in communities across the United States each year and date back to the '60s when students started asserting a first amendment right to govern their appearance in school, said Martha McCarthy, Chancellor's Professor of Education and chair of IU's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. "Students think of new ways to challenge school leaders," McCarthy said. What has changed in the last 20 years is the nature of the challenges. Rather than wearing shirts that protest the Vietnam War, students increasingly are wearing shirts that make religious statements, like "Homosexuality is a sin." McCarthy said the United States is not in step with many other countries that require uniforms for public school students. "There is a slight trend in our large urban districts to adopt uniforms," McCarthy said. "A few schools have kept data on discipline referrals, and they have been able to show that discipline problems declined when they adopted student uniforms." At schools without policies regarding text on T-shirts, students still are challenging administrators. The students say the T-shirts express their faith and religious views, and that administrators are violating their freedom of expression when they ask students to change shirts. "If I were putting something together for school principals, I would encourage them to establish attire policies that are educationally based before they have a controversy with emotions running high," McCarthy said. The courts are receptive right now to restrictive dress codes as long as they are not designed to curtail expression, McCarthy said. Schools have been upheld in banning articles of clothing that are obscene, vulgar, libelous or disruptive, or that conflict with the school's objectives. In an Ohio case — Boroff v. Van Wert City Board of Education — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld school officials in barring Marilyn Manson T-shirts that were considered vulgar and contrary to the school's educational mission. Kids can be distracted by what other students are wearing, and sometimes clothes — like flip flops — pose safety concerns. "If you can show the policies are designed to keep students from being distracted and are linked to the school's educational mission, then I think you're on a fairly safe ground," McCarthy said. "But students have prevailed in a number of cases where attire restrictions have been discriminatory or arbitrary." Before doing back to school shopping, parents should check with their children's schools and find out what the dress codes are. If they have any questions, they should ask a school official in order to avoid having their kids sent home for wearing inappropriate attire.

McCarthy can be reached at 812-856-8384 and

Parents have a long "to do" list before sending their children to kindergarten or school for the first time. In addition to making sure their child has the necessary supplies of crayons, scissors and glue, they may be questioning whether their child is ready for kindergarten and if that child will be successful. "The notion of readiness connotes different things to each person," said Shirley Aamidor, assistant professor of education at Indiana University Kokomo. "Some parents may think that their child ought to read, write or count as prerequisites to kindergarten, and while these are important as emergent or nascent knowledge, it is not expected that children will have acquired the nuts and bolts of reading, writing and numeracy — after all, that is what kindergarten is for." So, just what do teachers want children to know before kindergarten? At IU Kokomo, the Early Childhood Education Center is conducting preliminary research on teacher expectations for kindergarten readiness. Although teachers would like students to know their colors and to have some letter and number recognition, they recognize that many students may not have had exposure to more formal learning opportunities. This research with area kindergarten teachers is part of the Howard County Community Partnerships for Kindergarten Readiness funded through the Lilly Endowment's Community Alliances to Promote Education (CAPE) program. Kindergarten teachers recognize that their expectations may not always be met at the beginning of the school year, and that they may spend the first few weeks of school teaching children how to share and wait their turn to speak. Kindergarten teachers, including those in the Kokomo region, want children to be able to focus, listen and know how to share attention in a room full of other children. In addition, they want children to be able to sit still, keep their hands to themselves and follow simple one- or two-step directions. These initial findings in Howard County support national opinion. When teachers were asked in a national survey what characteristics are important to school success, kindergarten teachers listed the following:

  • Being well nourished and rested.
  • Being able to communicate their needs, thoughts and wants verbally.
  • Being enthusiastic and curious in approaching new activities.
  • Taking turns and sharing.

Additionally, children ought to be able to follow simple directions, cooperate with others, work independently and in a group for short periods of time, and get along with the teacher and their peers. "In addition to purchasing scissors, glue and crayons this fall, parents should make sure their child has had experience in another set of three R's -- Rest, Respect, Responsibility," said Aamidor. For more information, contact Aamidor at 765-455-9296 and

65 percent is no solution, said Jonathan Plucker, a professor of educational psychology and cognitive science at Indiana University, where he directs the non-partisan Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. Over the past 30 years, one of the biggest free market success stories has been the introduction of market-based reforms to K-12 education. With a focus on educational outcomes and family choice, in contrast to a focus on inputs and geography-based school attendance, advocates for choice are beginning to do what many cynics thought impossible -- reform American schools, Plucker said. Yet this progress is threatened by a school finance regulation, known as the "65 Percent Solution," that is sweeping the nation from statehouse to statehouse. The idea behind these regulations is to require districts to spend at least 65 percent of their funds "in the classroom." Many policymakers rushed 65 Percent Solution legislation into law, but the data raises many questions about these finance regulations, and voices from the right and left have pointed out the problems with school finance mandates. Plucker can be reached at 800-511-6575, 812-855-4438 or