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Study Shows School Uniforms Don't Improve Student Behavior

Several girls lined up wearing matching school uniforms.
Ron Lach

While some educators and parents believe school uniforms improve student behavior and increase attendance, a new Ohio State University study disputes that notion.

Lead author of the study and assistant professor of human sciences at OSU, Arya Ansari said evidence does not show uniforms provide any substantial benefit for young students’ behavior.

“We really didn’t see any differences at any point in children’s elementary school careers,” said Ansari.

The study was published recently online in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly. It included 2010-11 data of about 1,000 schools, 6300 K-5th grade students from across all 50 states.

“We used that data to connect what children’s experiences look like with reports from teachers and students themselves with respect to their social behavioral development, their engagement, their feelings of belonging and things of that nature, in each grade,” said Ansari.

He said about 28% of students in the study wore uniforms, which he said reflects the ratio of what exists among all students in the U.S.

Ansari said school uniforms may not be the most effective way to improve student behavior and engagement. He adds the study even found a negative effect to uniforms.

“One difference that we did find was that children who were in schools that did have uniform policies toward the end of their elementary school careers did report that they felt like they didn’t belong as much in their school environments relative to students in schools without school uniforms,” said Ansari.

Ansari said while some parents and educators may see the uniforms as a money saver for families, that may not always be the case. He supports more research into uniforms.

“There’s a great deal of anecdotal discussions and conversations had about the benefits and drawbacks, but there really hasn’t been over the last 20 to 30 years much empirical evidence either in support or against school uniforms,” said Ansari.

He adds educators may want to reconsider their school clothing and other policies affecting students.

“We really need to think about or think more carefully about what policies we’re enacting and how far they can truly go with respect to improving different dimensions or domains of children’s early learning development,” said Ansari.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.