Taking Pride

It seems students in Japan take great pride in the cleanliness of their schools. In fact, keeping a clean school is part of their education.

This came to light in an e-mail that went on to explain how during the school day, a bell rings and music begins playing through the intercom. Students (and often teachers) stop what they are doing and begin to clean, with each class having a daily cleaning assignment. Although there are custodians in the schools, their job is to repair and maintain facilities.

With spending on maintenance and operations in U.S. schools continuing to hover around historic lows (see p. 45), is this a philosophy that can be adopted here to help schools care for and manage an aging stock of buildings that continue to be besieged by inadequate funding?

According to the e-mail, the practice “is supposed to get students into the habit of keeping their immediate surroundings clean” and “impress upon them the importance of cleaning not only one's space, but also the shared areas of the school.” The practice is not done because of the inability to afford cleaning equipment or to hire custodians; it is done because “cleaning is, for Japanese schools, a form of education.”

Even with a focus on improving education in America, not enough attention is placed on the importance of the condition of the learning environment in reaching goals. And although M&O plays a critical role in creating optimal learning environments, often barely a passing thought is given by lawmakers and budget committees to ensure the resources are available to make this happen.

Often, a grassroots effort is needed to advance an issue. Can the Japanese model of “pride in school cleanliness” be something that can be carried out in American education institutions? It would be a nice way to instill a sense of pride and ownership in our schools, and relieve strains on inadequate M&O budgets. It also may go a long way in elevating M&O in the eyes of those controlling the purse strings so that growing deficiences can be addressed better.



Percentage of total school district expenditures allocated to maintenance and operations in the 2004-05 academic year. Ten years ago, it was 9.6 percent.


Percentage of total M&O budget spent on energy/utilities.


Average number of full-time custodial staff employed at a typical school district. The average number of full-time maintenance staff is 10 and grounds staff 5.


National median annual salary of school custodial workers. The median maintenance staff annual salary is $35,000 and grounds workers $29,894.


Percentage of school districts contracting out M&O services. The smaller the district, the more likely it is to outsource.

Source: American School & University's 34th annual M&O Cost Study (see p. 45). Thanks to Allen Rathey of InstructionLink/JanTrain for the Japanese schools' e-mail.

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