NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does Drug Testing Students Work?

January 28, 2004

In his State of the Union address, President Bush called for increasing federal spending for drug testing public school students from $2 million to $25 million. Experts say it could boost the number of schools that conduct random tests of students, but question the effectiveness of drug testing in deterring student drug use.

One of the few large-scale scientific studies, by University of Michigan researchers, was published in the April 2003 Journal of School Health

  • The study estimated that nearly one in five of the nation's secondary schools used some form of drug testing.
  • It found nearly identical rates of drug use in schools that use testing and those that don't -- but it did not focus entirely on random tests.
  • Most schools do not conduct random screenings and instead test only when they have evidence or suspicions of drug use, the researchers found.

Experts say the number of students currently required to be tested is small -- although it is not known exactly how many. Critics say random testing, which is generally limited to athletes and students in extracurricular programs, targets kids who are less likely to use drugs but could discourage participation in school activities.

Surveys indicate that drug use among students in grades 8, 10 and 12 has dropped 11 percent in the past two years. Paul Houston of the American Association of School Administrators says testing programs are expensive and treatment is an even bigger obstacle.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court approved random testing of high school students involved in any competitive extracurricular activities, from football to debate. In the 5-4 ruling, justices said schools' responsibility for kids outweigh students' rights to privacy.

But legal battles continue over efforts to expand such testing.

Source: Fredreka Schouten (Gannett News Service), "Bush plan could encourage more schools to drug-test But debate continues over effectiveness," USA Today, January 28, 2004.


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