February 2007

Grant Results

National Program

Substance Abuse Policy Research Program

SUMMARY

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed the impact of the 1998 revisions to the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools Act on substance abuse prevention programs administered by 104 local school districts in 11 states.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

  • Prior to adoption of the new regulations, the most frequently used substance abuse-prevention curricula cited by coordinators at Safe and Drug-Free Schools had either been proven ineffective or had not been evaluated.
  • After the regulations went into effect, three-fourths of the coordinators said their district had adopted a research-based curriculum. In many cases, however, this curriculum was not the one most commonly used in the district.
  • Most school districts had conducted needs assessments, set goals and objectives and evaluated their programs in accordance with the new regulations.

Funding
RWJF supported this study from April 1999 through March 2002 with a grant of $344,180.

 See Grant Detail & Contact Information
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THE PROBLEM

In response to growing concern about substance use among middle and high school students, federal education officials have placed pressure on local school districts to use drug prevention programs that are based on analyses of local needs and that have been evaluated for their effectiveness.

The federal Department of Education provides the largest single source of federal school substance abuse-prevention funding through its Safe and Drug-Free Schools (SDFS) program. In 1998, the department began requiring that school districts comply with its Principles of Effectiveness or risk losing their prevention funds.

These principles require school districts to conduct needs assessments for alcohol, tobacco and other drug programs; develop measurable goals and objectives; adopt and implement effective programs that have been scientifically tested and found to reduce drug and alcohol use; and periodically evaluate their programs in order to refine and improve them.

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RWJF STRATEGY

RWJF has also provided four grants totaling $15.2 million to the University of Akron to do an evaluation of a revised DARE curriculum for middle and high school students (ID#s 037809, 039229, 049334, and 040371). In addition, it has funded two forums on evidence-based approaches to youth substance abuse (ID#s 045762 and 049641).

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THE PROJECT

The goal of this project was to assess the impact of the Principles of Effectiveness on school-based substance abuse prevention programs and student drug use in middle and high schools. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill used a "diffusion of innovation" model for determining the rate at which schools adopted the Principles of Effectiveness.

This model focuses both on how key staff perceive the innovation (in this case, the Principles of Effectiveness) and on the attributes of organizations that influence the rate and quality with which the innovation is adopted. Studies have found that these perceived attributes account for most of the variation in how organizations respond to innovations. See the Grant Results on ID# 045884 for more information on diffusion of innovation theory.

Researchers conducted two surveys of 104 Safe and Drug-Free Schools coordinators in 11 states. (See Appendix for a list of states.)

  • The first survey (1999) included questions to determine whether the coordinators perceived the Principles of Effectiveness to be useful and compatible with the school culture; how school staff made decisions regarding innovations; and the extent to which the coordinators promoted the Principles of Effectiveness in their school system. Eighty-one coordinators, or 78 percent, responded to the survey.
  • The second survey (2001) included questions to assess whether the school district had conducted the needs assessments, set goals and objectives, developed curricula and evaluated their programs as specified by the Principles of Effectiveness. Seventy-nine coordinators, or 76 percent, responded to the second survey.

Researchers also interviewed 10 of the 11 state Safe and Drug-Free Schools directors to ascertain how state-level staff communicated with school district staff, how actively state staff promoted the Principles of Effectiveness and what standards the state used to assess whether districts adopted the Principles of Effectiveness. They were unable to examine changes in student substance use rates because the data were too limited to allow that analysis.

In July 1999, the principal investigator and a graduate research assistant received a Public Policy Scholars award of $22,000 from the North Carolina Governor's Institute on Alcohol and Substance Abuse to extend the project to include all school districts in North Carolina. The graduate research assistant received an additional $10,000 stipend from the University of North Carolina Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention to further examine factors influencing the implementation of the Principles of Effectiveness in North Carolina.

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FINDINGS

Researchers reported the following findings from the study in Health Education Research, Evaluation Review and in a report to RWJF:

  • In both 1999 and 2001, most local school district Safe and Drug-Free Schools coordinators worked fewer than 10 hours per week on issues of substance abuse prevention. Most had other significant responsibilities within the district, including some who were school principals.
  • In 1999, the most frequently used substance abuse-prevention curricula cited by coordinators had either been proven ineffective or had not been evaluated. Of districts that reported using research-based curricula, only 19 percent were implementing those curricula with fidelity to the original design. Common deviations from proven programs included omission of teacher training, lack of materials and failure to deliver lessons to age-appropriate students.
  • By 2001, most districts reported they had conducted a needs assessment and had established goals and objectives based on the results. More than half said they had conducted an evaluation of their program.
  • About three-fourths of districts said they used a substance abuse-prevention curriculum that was based in research; they were less likely to report that these curricula were the ones most commonly used in the district.
  • District size was strongly associated with whether or not a district had conducted a needs assessment, implemented research-based programs or evaluated its program.

Communications

Project staff published articles in Health Education Research and Evaluation Review. See the Bibliography for details. A project summary and journal abstracts are available online.

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SIGNIFICANCE TO THE FIELD

In its strategic plan, the Society for Prevention Research, an international organization seeking to advance science-based prevention programs and policies through empirical research, included monitoring state and federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools policies and local school district implementation of the new requirements.

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LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Most school districts have limited funding, staff and infrastructure for substance abuse-prevention activities and researchers need to take these limitations into account when planning what they can expect from schools. (Project Director/Hallfors)
  2. When surveying staff about prevention curricula, it is best to limit choices to less than one page, and probe how extensively curricula are used. When researchers telephoned coordinators whose written survey responses indicated that their district used research-based prevention curricula, many retracted their original responses or became vague regarding how widely those curricula were used. (Project Director/Hallfors)

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AFTER THE GRANT

Using data from this study, the principal investigator received two grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In addition, in 2004, Hallfors, now a senior research scientist at Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, received a subsequent RWJF Substance Abuse Policy Research Program grant to study the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 on substance abuse prevention programs (ID# 049921).

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

Policy as Innovation: Diffusion of the Principles of Effectiveness

Grantee

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill,  NC)

  • Amount: $ 344,180
    Dates: April 1999 to March 2002
    ID#:  035153

Contact

Denise D. Hallfors, Ph.D.
(919) 265-2612
hallfors@pire.org

Web Site

http://www.saprp.org
http://www.saprp.org/grant_publications.cfm?appId=945

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APPENDICES


Appendix 1

List of States With School Districts Participating in the Survey

Arkansas
California
Connecticut
Maryland
Massachusetts
Mississippi
North Carolina
New Jersey
South Carolina
Texas
Wisconsin

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

Book Chapters

Hallfors D and Frame L. "Substance Abuse." In Child Development: Macmillan Psychology Reference Series, Volume I, Salkind NJ (ed.). New York: Macmillan Reference Books, 2001.

Articles

Hallfors D and Godette D. "Will the 'Principles of Effectiveness' Improve Prevention Practice? Early Findings from a Diffusion Study." Health Education Research, 17(4): 461–470, 2002. Abstract available online.

Hallfors D and Iritani B. "Local and State School-Based Substance Use Surveys: Availability, Content, and Quality." Evaluation Review, 26(4): 418–437, 2002. Abstract available online.

Hallfors D and Van Dorn RA. "Strengthening the Role of Two Key Institutions in the Prevention of Adolescent Substance Abuse." Journal of Adolescent Health, 30(1): 17–28, 2002.

Pankratz M, Hallfors D and Cho H. "Measuring Perceptions of Innovation Adoption: The Diffusion of a Federal Drug Prevention Policy." Health Education Research, 17(3): 315–326, 2002. Abstract available online.

Reports

Hallfors D, Sporer A, Pankratz M and Godette D. Drug Free Schools Survey: Report of Results. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, 2000.

Hallfors D, Pankratz M and Sporer A. Drug Free Schools Survey II: Report of Results. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, 2001.

Hallfors D and Sussman S. Getting Results: Developing Safe and Healthy Kids, Update 2. Sacramento, Calif.: California Department of Education, 2001.

Pankratz M and Hallfors D. North Carolina Drug Free Schools Survey: Report of Results. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, 2001.

Pankratz M, Hallfors D, Sporer A and Godette D. Drug Free Schools Survey: Report of Results. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, 2000.

Survey Instruments

"Drug-Free Schools Survey," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, fielded July–November 1999.

"Drug-Free Schools State Survey: Interview Guide," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, fielded August–October 2000.

"Drug-Free Schools Survey II," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, fielded February–May 2001.

"North Carolina Drug-Free Schools Survey," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health, fielded March–June 2001.

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Report prepared by: Barbara Matacera Barr
Reviewed by: Mary Nakashian
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Victor A. Capoccia
Program Officer: C. Tracy Orleans

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