School uniforms don’t improve student behavior, study says

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For those who hated wearing a school uniform growing up, a new study is reinforcing your argument. Researchers from The Ohio State University report requiring students to wear a uniform does not help to encourage better behavior. In fact, study authors note that students wearing a uniform actually report lower levels of “school belonging.”

“A lot of the core arguments about why school uniforms are good for student behavior don’t hold up in our sample,” says lead study author Arya Ansari, assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State, in a university release.

Interestingly, study authors note that school uniforms are growing in popularity — and not just in private schools. Roughly 20 percent of public schools required uniforms during the 2011-12 school year, a major increase over the three percent in 1995-96. Meanwhile, about 60 percent of private schools required uniforms in 2011-12.

“There hasn’t been much research done on the value of school uniforms in the past 20 years or so, especially given how much their use has increased,” Prof. Ansari adds.

Are uniforms actually interfering with school life?

Uniform supporters usually claim these policies promote greater school community, better attendance, and less fighting or bullying. To see if any of that is true, researchers analyzed a nationally representative sample of 6,320 students ranging from kindergarten to the fifth grade.

The teachers of these students rated them over the course of the school year according to three factors: social skills, internalizing behavior problems (anxiety, shyness), and externalizing behavior problems (anger, violence, destruction of property). Researchers also considered attendance rates in their results. All in all, school uniforms had absolutely no effect on any of these dimensions.

Additionally, study authors surveyed each student about their “sense of school belonging” while in the fifth grade. Students reported on how close they felt to their teachers and classmates and described any instances of bullying and social anxiety. While uniforms didn’t seem to impact bullying or anxiety rates one way or another, kids wearing a uniform actually reported feeling lower levels of school belonging than students who attended schools with no uniform requirements.

“While uniforms are supposed to build a sense of community, they may have the opposite effect,” Prof. Ansari notes. “Fashion is one way that students express themselves, and that may be an important part of the school experience. When students can’t show their individuality, they may not feel like they belong as much.”

“School uniforms may not be the most effective way to improve student behavior and engagement,” he concludes.

The study appears in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

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