Does the Way Your Kids Dress Affect How They Do in School?

What kids wear to school is a source of angst for many parents and teachers. Revealing attire, low-riding jeans and T-shirts with slogans are often the choice for teens and even preteens, while schools try to enforce dress codes or even mandate school uniforms. Evidence as to whether a strict dress code that mandates school uniforms can affect grades, however, is mixed.

School Uniforms

School uniforms have some distinct benefits, according to a November 2009 article in the “Pacific Standard” magazine 2. Uniforms decrease gang aggression, as all students are wearing the same styles and colors. For the same reason, the issue of students using clothing as a status symbol is less of a problem, and the uniforms foster a more business-like approach to academics. Trespassers on the school grounds are easily identified, and the uniforms have helped foster community identity and school spirit.

Dress Codes

Schools that adopt uniforms typically mandate styles and colors. Dress codes, on the other hand, are more likely to ban certain styles of clothing without dictating that students wear a particular color or style. One of the main reasons to implement dress codes, according to a November 2007 article in the "Fresno Pacific University News," is safety. The article notes that dress codes can reduce crime and make it less likely that students will bring weapons to school.

Effects of Uniforms

A study by the University of Houston, "Dressed for Success: Do School Uniforms Improve Student Behavior, Attendance and Achievement?" suggests that school uniforms can have an impact on students’ grades, attendance and behavior 3. The study authors reviewed data from 160 schools in a large urban district. Although the biggest improvement was among female students, benefits were apparent for both genders in middle and high schools. Girls missed one day less of class in the school year and the schools were more likely to retain female students at all grade levels.

Uniforms and Academic Performance

In Long Beach Unified School district, one of the first to mandate uniforms, school crime decreased 36 percent, student fights dropped 51 percent and sexual offenses decreased 74 percent, according to “Pacific Standard.” Research is mixed, however, on whether uniforms improve academic performance, according to an article on the website 4. In one study at Youngstown University, the researchers found uniforms improved attendance and graduation rates while decreasing suspension rates. The study did not show any improvement in academic performance. In another study at the University of Missouri, there was no correlation between uniforms and academic prowess.

Data is Mixed

A study reported in the 2009 “Educational Policy” analyzed data from two other studies from the National Center for Educational Statistics. Reading scores for students in the eighth and 10th grades were higher in schools that mandated uniforms. In all other respects, uniformed students in one study performed worse than students who did not wear uniforms. In the second study, students from private schools that mandated uniforms scored poorly in math and reading compared to schools that did not require uniforms. In public schools, uniforms made no difference in mathematics achievement. Catholic schools that mandated uniforms had lower scores in reading, science and history than comparable schools that did not require uniforms.

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