hearts and minds

May 23, 2007

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Filed under: Education,War on Drugs — Hearts & Minds @ 9:49 pm

A new and fresh approach is being taken by the Cedarburg School Board and Administration to the issue of substance abuse and the responsibility of the Cedarburg School District to address it. (You may need to see the previously posted article, to understand the context of this essay.)

Since the end of March of this year, Superintendent Daryl Herrick has clearly and repeatedly stated that the District is not following a blinders-on, pre-conceived course to impose random drug testing on students here. More recently, he has initiated very specific and appropriate studies. One is intended to objectively analyze the effectiveness of random drug testing. Another is a self-survey intended to discover, identify, and evaluate steps, techniques, and programs that are already taking place in the schools of the District to address substance abuse. My applause is not needed to congratulate these initiatives. Their value and appropriateness, if well executed, are self-evident.

All members of the Board who have expressed opinions publicly on the subject seem to concur with the spirit and objective of these fresh approach initiatives. I say fresh approach because it is clear, from minutes of all meetings of the School Board and it’s committees, that since at least May of 2006, until March of 2007, there was no doubt, challenge, or question, by any members of the Board or the Administration, of the intention to impose random drug testing on students in Cedarburg.

Remnants of that yearlong agenda are still cropping up, however, like thistles and garlic mustard in spring. One of these remnants is the parent survey mailed out earlier this year. You don’t have to be a doctor of education to know that a survey can be used to manipulate public opinion, rather than to gauge it, and that a survey can be designed to produce pre-conceived, unscientific results. This survey was clearly irresponsible, premature, and bound to produce the results it garnered.

Here’s a fer’instance. Do I think that shooting a perpetrator in the act will reduce the incidence of car theft? Yeah, I s’pose it will. (With a good shot, that perpetrator won’t complete the theft, and he won’t do it again, either.) But maybe the question should ask whether door and ignition locks, and alarm systems, and police patrols might be a lot more effective in reducing car theft (and also result in fewer bullet holes in the neighbors’ walls and family).

And just maybe, people’s response to a survey question would be more valuable if it is an informed response, rather than one off the top of the head. Most of us really don’t know whether door locks are more effective than alarm systems or lethal booby traps. If there is credible information available, it is certainly more appropriate for the responsible persons (who are paid, after all, for professional services) to, without bias, acquire that information, and then to provide that information to the community, rather than just dropping a narrowly and inappropriately focused question out of the blue on people, like a reporter asking questions on the street or a radio shock jock lining up support for his point of view.

There is no question (just for one example) that providing effective security on drugs and alcohol (including certain over-the-counter medications) at factories, retail stores, and in the home, would be far more effective at curtailing substance availability and abuse than imposing random drug testing on students. In point of fact, ANYTHING that works at all is more effective at curtailing substance abuse than is random drug testing.

The startlingly remarkable thing that has come to light in the last month or two of public discussion of this proposed program to impose random drug testing on Cedarburg students is the almost unbelievable way in which the entire School Board and Administration, without objection or exception, spent a full year deliberately harnessing their cart in front of the horse.

The two recently announced studies are certainly important and valuable and should proceed (if performed objectively and competently). But what, pray tell, was the Board and Administration doing, planning for a year to implement a program of random drug testing before even thinking of evaluating the effectiveness of such a program? (And don’t insult our intelligence by denying that the Board and Administration was moving, since a year ago May, in amicable lockstep, to impose random drug testing.)

And why was the Board and Administration moving to impose such a draconian, invasive testing program when it obviously had not yet surveyed what it was already doing about substance abuse, or whether what it was doing was helpful, or what menu of options exist for a responsible, caring School District and community – when, in fact, it had not yet developed a policy on substance abuse and the at-risk student population?

The clear, unmistakable conclusion the community must draw from the recently announced study initiatives is that the Cedarburg School District does not even HAVE a coherent, explicit policy regarding substance abuse, and that it focused for many months on how to impose one particular questionable program, the basic effectiveness of which it has only now begun to explore. (Perhaps that is to be expected with a Board consisting entirely of males, all of whom proudly assert they have no professional experience or credentials in the field of education, or related disciplines.)

Incidentally, the fresh approach being taken is evidence of the essential importance of two critical elements of a functional democracy. One of these is personal involvement and persistent oversight by the citizenry. The other critical element is responsible, perceptive, penetrating, critical, sometimes annoying reportage by journalists. It isn’t our job, fellas, to just sing your praises, and dish out your “company line”. We have a different obligation. Military and police forces are essential, and we all owe a great debt that can never be fully repaid to persons who have honorably filled those ranks. But it isn’t only people wearing uniforms and following orders, who defend and extend freedom and democracy, and ensure good government.

So my hat is off to the School District for taking this fresh approach, and to those citizens who’ve been asking questions and holding the District’s feet to the fire. They’ve helped to broaden the inquiry and correct the course.

One last thing. It would behoove the Policy Committee to change the name of its agenda item for future meetings from “Random Drug Testing” to “Comprehensive Substance Abuse and At-Risk Policy”. And finally put the horse out in front of the cart.


  1. A concise analysis of random drug testing of students, complete with useful links to sources of information and references cited, is contained in two brief articles that focus on the general problem of random drug testing without cause. The first article (“The War on Drugs Surges to Cedarburg High School“) is an alert and an introduction, with links to references. The second article (“Cedarburg School District May Test for Drugs Without Cause“) summarizes the issues involved by asking and answering three simple questions (and also provides hyperlinks in the text to important references).

    Comment by clydewinter — May 25, 2007 @ 6:50 am | Reply

  2. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there is no reliable data that supports the effectiveness of suspicion-less drug testing of students. The Department says that several recent studies have shown the “potential effectiveness” of student drug testing, but none of the studies “have employed a randomized control trial, the type of research design needed to make a valid determination of whether mandatory random drug testing deters drug use.”

    The Department is currently funding research that they say will provide reliable, valid evidence on the effectiveness of this program; data collection for the first year of this 3-year research study began in Fall 2007 and will be completed in Spring 2008. Preliminary analysis and results of this data will not be available until sometime after that. Even when it does appear, the research methodologies and conclusions will have to be carefully scrutinized.

    This study was announced in the May 22, 2006 Federal Register.

    As citizens and tax-payers, we have to wonder why so much money has been spent promoting and funding suspicion-less drug testing of students when there is no evidence that it works (and considerable evidence that it doesn’t). We also need to insure that the Cedarburg Administration and Board are aware of this information.

    Comment by Michelle — May 27, 2007 @ 10:09 am | Reply

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