Barbers Hill ISD says study shows ‘significant correlation’ between academic success, schools with dress codes

MONT BELVIEU, Texas – Barbers Hill ISD Superintendent Greg Poole caused quite the reaction on social media Thursday after tweeting about a district sanctioned study.

Poole wrote that the study showed “statistically significant correlations” between higher academic success and safer schools, which had more stringent dress codes.

“(Barbers Hill) Board asked for a study of all (Texas) HS’s & HS’s with a hair code like ours are safer & stronger academically. Students are 10 times as likely to commit violent offenses in HS’s with no hair code. BH is the fastest growing in Houston & high standards in ALL areas are the reason,” Poole wrote.

He continued: “The BH Board sanctioned study showed statistically significant correlations of higher academic success & safer schools of HS’s which had more stringent dress codes. It appears the lack of a high expectation in one area has a corrosive effect in eroding expectations in others.”

These tweets come after Barbers Hill ISD faced months of controversy centering around the district’s hair policy. A graduating senior withdrew from school after he was kicked out of school for refusing to cut his dreadlocks.

KPRC 2 asked the district on several occasions for a copy of the study and was denied. But instead, the district was given the article below, which was written by an employee at the district.

Dress Code & Student Success Statewide study

December 15, 2020

By Carla Rabalais (or Barbers Hill ISD)

Barbers Hill ISD has recently been the subject of a well-publicized attack of its dress and grooming policies by the ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

These organizations allege, among other things, that the district’s dress and grooming standards that include a hair length restriction for boys discriminates on the basis of sex and race.

“We didn’t bring this policy to our district, but we know it was intended to emphasize the high expectations Barbers Hill ISD has in all things,” said BH Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole.

In October, the BHISD Board of Trustees asked district leaders to take a close look at the district’s dress code to ensure that its purpose was still consistent with the community’s expectations and that its use was enhancing the district’s goals.

The BHISD dress code requires, among other standards, that girls’ dresses and tunics must extend beyond fingertip length and boys’ hair length must be maintained out of the eyes, not below the ear lobe, and not below the top of the collar. Exceptions to the hair length restrictions are permitted for purposes of religious expression and for medical reasons.

Dr. Christine Bruton, an assessment specialist in Barbers Hill ISD, led extensive research in response to the charge of the Board of Trustees to discover how dress codes and hair policies relate to student success in Texas.

Data from all 1442 Texas high schools were evaluated in Bruton’s study, including criteria such as academic ratings, graduation rates, dropout rates, discipline referrals and expulsions during the 2018-2020 school years, along with each high school’s dress and grooming policies as noted in the student handbooks.

Texas high schools were then sorted into three categories: schools that had strict dress and grooming standards, similar to that of BHISD; schools that included at least one feature of BHISD’s dress and grooming policies; and schools with no specific dress and grooming policy (including those with ambiguous wording such as “hair must be well-groomed.”)

“Previous studies, as well as current data, showed strong connections between dress code and areas of safety, enhanced performance, school climate, dropout rates, and discipline issues, to name a few,” said Bruton.

Significant in her research was the Department of Education’s “Manual on School Uniforms,” commissioned by President Bill Clinton in 1995 after California schools saw a marked reduction in crime – including assault and battery, sex offenses, weapon offenses, gang activity and drug cases – within a year after implementation of a uniform policy.

“If student uniforms can help deter school violence, promote discipline, and foster a safer and better learning environment, then we should offer our strong support to the schools and parents that try them,” said President Clinton in the memorandum to the manual.

While safe schools and successful students are not the product of any one factor, including dress or grooming policies, Bruton’s data reflects benefits that were similar to the findings of the 1996 study for schools implementing dress codes today.

Specifically, for the 300 high schools across the state with dress and grooming standards similar to Barbers Hill’s policy, statistics showed those schools were the most likely to be rated an A or B by the Texas Education Agency. These schools were also less likely to have significant safety-related issues such as students placed in out-of-school suspension or removed to a disciplinary alternative education program.

The schools graded “F” by TEA consistently lacked dress and grooming policies for students.

“Kids thrive within structure and boundaries,” said BH Coordinator of Student Services Mandy Malone. “Dress code and hair policy are just two in a collection of many small boundaries that create a positive learning environment for students.”

Besides creating supportive boundaries for students, district leaders cited real-world training as a key benefit to enforced dress codes.

“Our standards are going to be the standard of the working world because that’s what we are preparing our students for,” said Barbers Hill Deputy Superintendent Sandra Duree. “High standards aren’t easy, but they are the right thing for students.”

Superintendent Poole clarified the connection between the district’s new study results and its legacy mission: “We cannot give up the fight for high standards just because some students would prefer not to adhere to them,” said Poole. “This issue is a canary in the coal mine regarding the corrosive effect of eroding expectations. The stakes are high, and Barbers Hill ISD will continue to emphasize local control and have the highest of standards for our students in all things.”

KPRC 2 also reached out to Poole and every member of the district’s school board but our requests for more information on the study and how it was paid for were ignored.

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