Why Do Schools Fail?

While it has not been as big a problem in Canada as it has been in the U.S. and other parts of the western world, what is termed “school failure” is spreading and leaving few stones unturned.  Defining what a failing or underperforming school is can be complicated,  In England, they have tried to simplify it by defining a failing or underperforming school as one in which 25 percent or less of the students in a school fail to pass public examinations given to all U.K. students.

However, this providers a “line in the sand,” it does not tell us exactly why these students failed to pass these tests?  Researchers in North America and England say that the actual reasons why a school is underperforming or failing is contingent on a surprisingly large number of  variables. In one study, 15 different variables were pointed out, among them the following:

• Significantly reduced school funding

• Lack of clear focus by administrators, teachers, parents, and students on ways to properly educate children

• The negative aspects of poverty that can impact learning along with diversity challenges that many schools are finding they are ill equipped to address

• Ineffective instruction or poorly trained teachers

• Inadequately cleaned and maintained school facilities

These researchers also indicate that why a school fails is often the result of a combination of these and other variables. This means not one variable is consistently found in all failing schools, except with the possibility of one:  Consistently, schools that are failing also tend to be ineffectively cleaned and maintained.

Our Industry’s Role
The jansan industry can do little to address how well teachers are taught or the impact of poverty on schools, but we can do a lot about how they are cleaned and maintained.  In fact, many distributors believe this is ultimately their job and one of their key goals for all their customers, including schools.

But as it pertains to schools specifically, this is why ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, the Healthy School Campaign, a non-profit organization that works to make schools a healthier and Greener place for learning, and Stephen Ashkin president of The Ashkin Group, the leading advocates for Green Cleaning in North America, have come together to recognize and encourage custodial training in honor of this year’s Green Apple Day of Service.

“Our key objective is to help improve the health and conditions of all schools, not just those that are failing or in trouble,” says Ashkin. “And we plan to do this by focusing on enhanced custodial training. Proper training improves the productivity of custodial workers, ensuring that they are using products, procedures, and equipment properly, reducing the environmental impact of cleaning, all of which are crucial to enhancing the learning environment.”

The program is designed to encourage jansan distributors to essentially adopt a school and its custodial workers to help them with the following:

Find out what training is needed or would be most helpful.  This is the discovery process where distributors learn about the products and procedures the cleaning workers use to clean the school. Once uncovered, this step could include training on new equipment such as the use of floor machines; no-touch restroom cleaning systems: and backpack vacuums. Training could apply to such things as the most effective ways to clean and maintain hard surface floors; carpets, classrooms and restrooms. “This is also when new technologies for measuring cleanliness should be introduced,” according to Ashkin. “Also right-to-know information* and the importance of wearing personal protective equipment must be part of the mix.”

Address special cleaning challenges and issues. Some schools and school districts may have particular cleaning-related issues they are dealing with. School administrators and custodial workers will have the opportunity to discuss these issues with distributors who can then schedule and conduct custodial training sessions on these identified topics.  This step requires schools to take the first step and contact their distributors of cleaning products asking for their assistance.

Ensure training is designed for all custodial workers. Not only may English be a second language for many cleaning workers but custodians may have different skill levels.  There may be cultural barriers that may make training more difficult and in some cases custodial workers may be recently hired and need to be instructed on the special needs of cleaning an educational facility. In such cases, the training sessions must be designed so that they are understandable and take these issues into consideration.

Provide instruction on Green and sustainable issues related to cleaning.  Because we know that Green cleaning strategies can help improve student performance, distributors will help instruct custodial workers on cleaning procedures that are more environmentally preferable.  In addition, instruction will be provided on ways to reduce a schools overall footprint by educating cleaning workers and school administrators on ways to promote sustainability.

The Endgame
Of course our goals with our Green Apple Day project, as referenced earlier, are to make school learning environments Greener, healthier, and safer.  And if this can help a failing school turnaround with better student learning outcomes, all the better.

We want to also help ensure that more and more custodial workers are properly trained on the use of the most advanced cleaning equipment along with cleaning procedures that help improve worker productivity. This can be a serious issue in all facilities but especially in educational facilities because invariably custodial workers bring their old cleaning skills with them. They may employ cleaning procedures that are not the most effective or lend themselves to cleaning in a school environment.

Even in parts of Canada where school funding has actually been increased in recent years, invariably this applies to curriculum and other issues involved in school instruction and operation.  Cleaning is not necessarily included so teaching custodial workers how to work more effectively means more cleaning tasks can be addressed.

However, we also have an even bigger goal in mind, which you could call our ultimate endgame.  We would like to see these projects be used to help communities across North America learn why effective cleaning is so critical to schools.
As many of us known, when school budget cuts must be made, invariably it is school cleaning that first wacked.  But creating clean and healthy learning environments for students and staff is the necessary first step in making sure are schools are high performing and in giving our children a world-class education.

* “Right to know” is a legal principle that states an individual has the right to know, for instance, the potential adverse impact of the cleaning chemicals they may be using.

Published in Sanitation Canada August 2015