Dressed for Success? The Effect of School Uniforms on Student Achievement and Behavior

School-uniform policies
have become prevalent since the mid-1990s, with almost 20 percent of
public schools requiring them
as of 2007-08. From Long Beach, CA to Boston,
MA, urban districts cite intrinsic benefits of these equitable outfits: They
contribute to school order and safety and decrease social stratification. But
these benefits are all anecdotal—uniform policies have largely evaded robust
quantitative analysis. This National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper seeks
to fill the gap. NBER analysts parsed data from a large urban school district
in the southwest (administrative records from 1993-2006 and test data from
1998-2006 were used). Their findings: At the elementary level, uniforms were
positively correlated with teacher retention (attrition went down 5 percent
with the adoption of uniform policies). At the secondary level, they showed a
slightly positive impact on student attendance (more so for girls than boys,
and more so for economically disadvantaged students at high-poverty schools).
But on student achievement, disciplinary infractions, and grade retention,
uniforms had no discernable effect. Which probably shouldn’t be too surprising;
as they always say, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Elisabetta Gentile and
Scott A. Imberman, Dressed for Success? “The Effect of School Uniforms on
Student Achievement and Behavior
,” (National Bureau of Economic Research
Working Paper, August 2011).

Laura Johnson is a Research Intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute