The Attendance Gap Flares Up

The cleaning industry’s impact on student absenteeism

The Attendance Gap Flares Up

According to a 2015 study, Mapping the Early Attendance Gap: Charting a Course for School Success, an estimated 5 to 7.5 million American students miss about one month of school each year, which has a serious impact on their academics.

The problem starts early, with an estimated 10 percent of kindergartners and first graders missing that much school. This is a critical time for young students, because it is typically during these early school years that they begin to learn how to read. Missing school at this important juncture can result in them falling behind their peers.

Absence rates can then spike again as children enter their teen years. This is another critical time because many teenage students, especially from low-income families, begin to question if they want to finish their schooling. If they are frequently sick, quitting school may seem like a practical decision.

But, the study warns, poor attendance is a warning sign “a student has missed the on-ramp to school success and is headed off track for graduation.”

We should note, these kids are not “skipping” school. The study, produced by an organization called Attendance Works in conjunction with the Healthy Schools Campaign, reports the reasons these students are missing school can be tied directly to a number of factors—but the first one noted is health-related, and links to asthma. This is an issue American schools and the professional cleaning industry have grappled with for decades.

The Impact of Asthma

According to the study, asthma, asthma attacks, and other serious respiratory problems account for about 14 million school absences each year. The more serious and frequent the attacks, the more likely the student will be absent from school and the longer those absences will be.

We know that even effective cleaning cannot prevent some asthma triggers. Some schools, due to age, neglect, or poor upkeep, have mold, mildew, and other problems that can cause asthma and respiratory problems.

This is where the professional cleaning industry comes in. The report specifically points out that “harsh cleaning chemicals” can negatively impact student health and trigger asthma attacks. Other studies going back more than 25 years have pointed this out as well, and it is not just students who are affected. A California organization called the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP) reports custodial workers also have high rates of occupational asthma, which has been linked to the traditional cleaning solutions they work with in schools.

What We Need to Do

Our industry has made tremendous gains in transferring school districts around the country from traditional to environmentally preferable cleaning products and procedures; however, this study points out that we still have much to do.

One of the things we should consider is replicating what we started during last year’s Green Apple Day of Service. Working with ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association; the Healthy Schools Campaign; and The Ashkin Group, nearly 800 school custodians who serve nearly 311,000 students in seven different school districts throughout the United States were taught state-of-the-art techniques and procedures to clean more effectively and efficiently using green cleaning solutions.

However, one single day each year is not enough. I would encourage those in our industry to become more involved with their local schools and school districts throughout the year. Reducing chronic absenteeism in our schools is every American’s problem, and it is a problem the professional cleaning industry not only can help to address, but one that students, teachers, and parents will expect us to address to help turn this situation around.

Posted On March 28, 2016
Stephen Ashkin

Stephen Ashkin

Chief Executive Officer, The Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC

Stephen Ashkin is CEO of The Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC. The Sustainability Dashboard is a reporting system that measures and monitors energy, water, and fuel consumption to help reduce environmental impact and cost. For more information, email

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