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Cavazos Pledges $2 Million To Enhance Anti-Drug Efforts

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Baltimore--Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos last week announced a series of initiatives to aid schools in combating drug abuse.

Mr. Cavazos said he would make available up to $2 million in discretionary funds to expand and enhance efforts against a problem he described as "the biggest threat to achieving our goal of an educated citizenry."

"I believe we can reclaim our cities and our children from the worst ravages of drug abuse," Mr. Cavazos said here in a speech at the Education Department's third annual conference on drug-free schools and communities.

"Drugs can be beaten if our schools, parents, police, communities, and youth send a firm, consistent message that illegal drugs will not be tolerated," he vowed.

The initiatives will be in addition to efforts already sponsored by the department, such as programs funded through the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, Mr. Cavazos explained.

Perhaps the most important of the new projects, he said, is the development of a comprehensive drug-abuse-prevention handbook for parents.

"We cannot expect our schools to succeed at teaching respect for laws and human dignity if we as parents have not done our jobs," Mr. Cavazos argued.

The handbook will examine how children learn, the role of values "in protecting children from irresponsible action," how to help children resist peer pressure, and when and how to talk to children about drugs, he said.

The Secretary said the newly provided funds would also go to support:

Developing a new videotape, aimed at inner-city youth and available in both English and Spanish, focusing on the link between drug use and dropping out of school;

Translating the department's current drug-prevention videos into Spanish and distributing those to school districts with high concentrations of Hispanic students;

Releasing next month a revised edition of the handbook, "What Works: Schools Without Drugs," with new survey findings and information on the effects of alcohol and drugs;

Producing public-service announcements in English and Spanish featuring Mr. Cavazos warning about the danger of drugs; and

Reprinting a department guide on what to look for when selecting a drug-prevention curriculum.

Mr. Cavazos also announced that the department's inspector general will schedule spot visits and perform audits to ensure that colleges and universities are complying with new regulations requiring PellGrant recipients to certify that they are not using illegal drugs.

A study will be conducted on implementation of the Drug-Free Schools and Community Act, he added, as part of the department's commitment to accountability.

According to John N. Pyecha, senior educational-systems analyst for the Research Triangle Institute and designer of the study, schools and organizations that receive federal funds from the department for drug-prevention programs can expect to receive a survey questionnaire next fall.

Some sites will also be visited by researchers to determine how the programs are being administered, he said. The final report is due next year.

"This is not an impact study," Mr. Pyecha emphasized. "We can't expect to measure how big a bang we are getting for the buck, but rather we will provide a description of how the programs are operated."

In fact, the question of how to determine the effects of drug-prevention programs proved to be a major unresolved issue at the conference.

At one session, conference participants who are responsible for administering anti-drug programs for school districts, state departments of education, and governors' offices groaned audibly when Education Department officials conceded that they could offer little guidance on program evaluation.

"Frankly, I don't think we know enough to help you," said Allen King, the director of the department's office on drug-free schools and communities.

William Bukoski, an evaluation specialist in the prevention-research branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, bemoaned the lack of research and resources for program evaluation. "I can't believe that we as a field lag so far behind," he said.

Such concerns are not new. In a report released in late 1987, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that most anti-drug programs used by schools had not been evaluated for their effectiveness. And many drug-education experts say the situation has not noticeably improved since then. (See Education Week, March 1, 1989.)

Consumers can read yearly reports about the quality of new cars, Mr. Bukoski noted. "As good consumers of these [drug-education] products, we should demand resources to make sure that these things work," he argued.

In other sessions, drug-program experts discussed strategies for making their efforts more effective with youths at greater than average risk of succumbing to drug abuse.

Phillip Oliver-Diaz, co-founder of the National Network for High-Risk Youth and Their Families, said a disproportionate number of minority youths use drugs because many have lost their "basic cultural identity."

He said many of these youths, who are struggling to maintain their ethnic background within the majority culture, need to be told that they are "perfect just the way they are."

Among addicted youths and adults who have successfully completed drug-rehabilitation programs, Mr. Oliver-Diaz added, "a majority of people who get better say it is a spiritual reason why they get better."

"We get all this money into a federal, secular system and we can't talk about God or spirituality or a higher power or any of the things that help people get better," he said.

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