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Education Department Issues Anti-Drug Curriculum

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Washington--The Education Department has mailed its own model drug-education curriculum, stressing "refusal skills" and an interdisciplinary approach, to 120,000 public- and private-school educators.

The mailing this summer marks the first time the federal agency has developed detailed K-12 lesson plans in any subject area. Department officials said schools are not required to follow the curriculum, and should adapt it to meet their own needs.

"Education is our best hope for a drug-free America," said Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, in releasing the curriculum last month. "This guide provides a blueprint--examples of effective techniques and suggestions for engaging classroom activities. It is a resource for every school in America."

Dick W. Hays, director of the drug-abuse-prevention oversight staff within the department, said that although the curriculum as a whole has never been evaluated for effectiveness, its information and4approaches are "up-to-date" and reflect the "consensus in the community" concerning drug education.

Mr. Hays said he hoped schools would incorporate facets of the model into their own programs. By using the curriculum, he said, schools would meet some of the stipulations of a new federal law requiring public schools to have anti-drug programs and policies in place as a prerequisite for receiving any federal funds. (See Education Week, May 2, 1990.)

Across Subject Areas

The curriculum, which is being mailed to all public-school principals and superintendents and to all private schools with 100 or more pupils, contains lesson plans for four clusters of grades: K-3, 4-6, 7-8, and 9-12.

The lessons are designed to infuse drug education into a variety of subject areas, including social studies, mathematics, English, and science, as well as health-education classes. In addition to providing information on the physical effects of drug use, the curriculum outlines activities to help children and adolescents improve8their "refusal skills"--their ability to say "no" when offered drugs.

In high-school English classes, for instance, the model recommends that students read Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and discuss the character of Sir John Falstaff, the play's heavy-drinking protagonist. To learn how using drugs can affect a family's budget, high-school mathematics students are told to pretend they are part of a newly married couple who must live on a combined income of $30,000 annually.

The curriculum also includes a guide for involving parents and the community in anti-drug efforts.

Generally Favorable Reviews

The suggested drug-education program has received generally favorable reviews from educators.

"It isn't every day that you get something free and useful from the federal government," said Lee Dogoloff, executive director of the American Council on Drug Education. Mr. Dogoloff was one of several experts asked by the department to review the curriculum before it was released.

"I think it's long overdue," said Marilyn Richen, coordinator of the drug and alcohol program for the Portland, Ore., school district.

The National School Boards Association said in a statement that the curriculum represents "the kind of program resource that teachers and administrators should consider using in local public schools across the United States."

Questions of 'Efficacy'

Some, however, have questioned the department's release to schools of what is essentially an unproven program. Only a handful of drug-education programs have undergone rigorous scientific evaluation, they said, and these have generally focused on middle-school students.

"I don't think the [ed] can say--or anyone else--if this works," said Gordon Cawelti, executive director of the Association for Curriculum and Development. "It is the absence of any data that concerns me about [the curriculum's] efficacy."

Moreover, he said, evaluating the curriculum's effectiveness will be difficult if schools decide to modify it to meet their own needs.

"No impact can be assured if you take a little from here and a little from there," Mr. Cawelti said. He added that he believes when it comes to curriculum and drug education, the department should assume an "R-and-D role, rather than a dissemination role."

Mr. Hays responded that the department believes the model will be effective because it is "consistent with all the research that has been done to date."

He said department officials had developed the lesson plans after reviewing many existing programs, visiting "exemplary efforts," and interviewing school administrators. The curriculum also drew upon two of the more thoroughly evaluated programs in this area: Project star, a refusal-skills program begun in Kansas City, Mo., and Project alert, which was developed by the rand Corporation.

While acknowledging that more needs to be known about the effectiveness of drug-education programs, Mr. Hays said that "over the past four years, we have been building a better base of knowledge about what works."

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