UH Study Suggests School Uniforms Reduce Student Absences, Disciplinary Problems

Fewer schools are including "Best Dressed" as a category in their end-of-the- year student polls. As public schools continue to adopt dress code policies, more students are unable to make individual fashion statements.

A recent University of Houston study suggests that this might be a good thing as school uniforms can positively impact students' grades, attendance and behavior.

UH economics professor Scott Imberman and graduate student Elizabetta Gentile surveyed administrative data from 160 public schools in a large urban school district. This data included student demographics, as well as academic, disciplinary and attendance records that had been filed from 1993 - 2006.

By applying econometric techniques - combining economic theory with statistics - Imberman and Gentile compared students from schools that required uniforms to peers from non-uniformed institutions. They specifically focused on student outcomes that emerged once a school required uniforms. Their study is documented in the paper "Dressed for Success: Do School Uniforms Improve Student Behavior, Attendance and Achievement?"

Their findings show bolstered attendance, academics and behavior in middle and high school students once their schools adopted uniforms. Imberman and Gentile noted that the biggest improvement was among female students.

"After uniforms were adopted, girls in middle school and high school missed one day less of school annually," Imberman said. "That sounds like a modest improvement, but in terms of educational interventions, it is challenging to motivate a progression in this area. This is fairly substantial."

They also found that once uniforms were mandated, the school district was more likely to retain its female students at all grade levels.

"Often, parents withdraw their children from a school district due to dissatisfaction," Imberman said. "This data suggests that uniforms helped schools increase parental satisfaction and encouraged students not to leave for charter or private schools."

The quantitative nature of the study does not offer direct insight as to why uniforms produce such favorable results from students. It does, however, point to the fact that students' attendance, test scores and behavior consistently improved from the time uniforms were introduced.

"The benefits increased over time," Imberman said. "The effects were smaller during the first year uniforms were adopted but grew in subsequent years. We interpret this as indication that there may have been an adjustment period. The uniforms might have taken some time to have an effect and become ingrained within the schools' environments."