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Addressing the Missing Component in American Schools: Cleaning

ashkin, stephen, ashkin groupIn 1983, an earthshaking report was released about American public schools. The report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, suggested that other countries around the world were outperforming US schools. Considered a landmark event, the report cited a number of examples to support this conclusion. For example, it revealed that the average SAT scores dropped “over 50 points” in the verbal section and ‘nearly 40 points” in the mathematics section of the test from 1963 to 1980.

Authors of the study included 18 members from the private sector, business and education. Among other things, they found that one-fifth of the students tested could not write a persuasive essay and only one-third could solve a mathematical problem if it required multiple steps. Further, when compared to students outside the United States, the authors found that on “19 academic tests American students were never first or second in comparison with other industrialized nations.”

The report included 38 recommendations which all fell into five major categories: Content, Standards and Expectations, Time, Teaching, Leadership and Fiscal Support. However, what was missing from the recommendations was the need for American schools to be clean and healthy. It is interesting — and possibly quite timely to note — that just a few years before the report was released, taxpayers were increasingly putting restraints on school budgets. Some of these were the result of “taxpayer revolts” that began in California in 1978 with the passage of Proposition 13, soon followed in Massachusetts with Proposition 2½.

Why this history lesson about American schools?

With the taxpayer revolts in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the budget items to be scaled back in many school districts was cleaning. In fact, in far too many instances, cleaning budgets were the first things on the chopping block. And since 2008’s financial collapse, schools have been burdened with even more drastic budget cuts. As a result, today we find many school buildings from coast to coast are in need of repairs, are burdened with unsafe toxins, and are staffed by far fewer custodial workers using outdated cleaning products and equipment, along with traditional — non-environmentally friendly — cleaning solutions. Further, proper training of these custodial workers has suffered significantly.

To many, it does not appear that much has improved since the 1983 report. And while there are likely many reasons for the decline in American school performance over the past few decades, one that cannot be ignored is that American schools are simply not cleaned and cared for as well as they should be and could be. Consider that a quarter of all Americans are using these schools every day. It is imperative for schools to be as clean and healthy as possible and for them to be cleaned using environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals and products, which we now know can help improve student performance.

Stephen P. Ashkin
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in greening the cleaning industry and CEO of Sustainability Tool LLC, an electronic dashboard that allows organizations to measure and report on their sustainability efforts. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies. Ashkin has worked in the cleaning industry since 1981 and has held senior management positions in leading consumer and commercial product companies. He began his work on green cleaning in 1990 and today is thought of as the “father of green cleaning.” For more information, visit www.AshkinGroup.com
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