Effectiveness of Schools Drug Program Questioned

Effectiveness of Schools Drug Program Questioned
Posted by FoM on August 10, 1999 at 07:42:20 PT
By Ana Acle, Herald Staff Writer 
Source: Miami Herald
By now, the slogan is nearly a cultural mantra: ``D.A.R.E. to keep kids off drugs.'' But is the nation's best-known drug education program a lasting deterrent or merely a feel-good exercise with temporary benefits?
In Miami-Dade County, the D.A.R.E program has deep roots and a big budget. The $2.3 million effort, coordinated by police and schools, graduated a record 21,000 students this school year. In Broward, about 17,000 students graduate annually.But a recent study from the University of Kentucky asserts D.A.R.E. -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- neither curbs the use of drugs nor changes attitudes toward drugs. It is the latest analysis to question the program's effectiveness.``People like D.A.R.E., kids like D.A.R.E., police like D.A.R.E., teachers like D.A.R.E.,'' said Donald Lynam, a University of Kentucky psychology professor and a primary author of the study. ``But we're not showing that it's effective.''The study, which 10 years ago began tracking 1,000 Kentucky sixth-graders who completed the program, showed D.A.R.E. had little effect on students' use and attitudes toward cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, other illicit drugs and peer-pressure resistance, Lynam said. The study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health.But local D.A.R.E. advocates, aware that the Kentucky study and others like it have cast doubt on D.A.R.E programs, were quick to defend their efforts.``The studies I've read have seen a significant decrease in drug use and risky behavior and also show a positive interaction between police officers and the students,'' said Miami-Dade Police Maj. James DiBernardo, whose officers teach the DARE program in local schools.D.A.R.E., launched in 1983 in Los Angeles, followed First Lady Nancy Reagan's ``Just Say No'' anti-drug campaign. Since then, 26 million children have enrolled nationwide. Presidents have declared National D.A.R.E. Days yearly since 1988.In a typical 17-week program, a uniformed police officer visits a school to teach students the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The program focuses on strategies for resisting and promotes self-esteem.But the Kentucky study showed a drop in the students' self-esteem. Researchers were unable to explain why the sixth-graders who attended D.A.R.E. had lower confidence levels at age 20 than their colleagues who heard anti-drug messages in health classes.Relationship stressed Sandy Baker Hoover, a guidance counselor at Bay Harbor Elementary, says the relationship that develops between the police officer and the children is more important than program content.``I haven't done a study, but I know that years later, children still come by and talk to the police officer,'' Hoover said.According to DiBernardo -- who supervises the 25 full-time Miami-Dade Police officers and three sergeants who teach D.A.R.E. programs in 120 elementary and 18 middle schools -- a 1996 review of state programs showed program participants used less hard-core drugs, such as cocaine and LSD. The study compared 356 students who enrolled in D.A.R.E to 264 students who did not.A summary of the study suggested D.A.R.E particularly discouraged teenage boys from using drugs. It also suggested short-term increases in self-esteem, resistance to peer pressure, bonding with police and decreased drug use.A similar study of more than 3,000 Ohio 11th-graders found kids who attended D.A.R.E. in elementary school and again later were 50 percent less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.Rethinking efforts But research questioning D.A.R.E's effectiveness has prompted some cities to rethink their efforts. In Quincy, Mass., for example, a school principal cut the program and used the money to train teachers and parents to talk to teens about drug use.So why does D.A.R.E. continue to be popular in most cities? The Kentucky study says teaching alcohol and drug abstinence is a widely accepted approach.``A second possible explanation for the popularity of such programs,'' the study said, ``is that they appear to work. . . . Adults may believe that drug use among adolescents is much more frequent than it actually is.''Erica Palm, 12, a rising seventh-grader at North Dade Middle, took the D.A.R.E. program two years ago.``I already knew drugs and alcohol were bad, but it just expanded my learning,'' Erica said. ``They told us why they were bad and they told us why you're not supposed to do them.''Erica was told by her parents not to use drugs, but her mother said she likes D.A.R.E. as reinforcement. ``Sometimes it's good for children to hear it from someone other than their parents,'' Julie Palm said.Broward School Board Chairwoman Lois Wexler said the program's popularity -- along with the fact that law enforcement and government grants pay for it -- make it unlikely that D.A.R.E. would be abandoned.Seeking `a continuum' But Wexler said she would like to see the program's messages reinforced more comprehensively in middle and high school. While fifth-graders spend sixteen weeks in D.A.R.E., drug use is only one of many issues discussed in physical education and health classes in secondary schools.``The problem is that there isn't a continuum,'' Wexler said. ``The ball is being dropped in the higher grades.''Broward Sheriff's Office Lt. John Nesteruk said he's heard about the contradictory studies but remains convinced of D.A.R.E's strengths.``All the parents swear by it, and I see kids, years after the program, still wearing their D.A.R.E. shirts,'' Nesteruk said. ``It's very difficult to measure the outcomes of a prevention program because of differences in opinions, how it's instructed and the amount of community support.``To do nothing at all would be defeatist,'' he said.Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.Copyright 1999 Miami HeraldPublished Tuesday, August 10, 1999in the Miami Herald DARE Course Loses Backing In Some Cities - 8/08/99
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Comment #1 posted by jim huie on February 28, 2000 at 10:58:49 PT:
DARE Program
I am a student at FAU attempting to gather information (where does the funding come from, are there existing program evaluations for this program?) for a research/program evaluation presentation. Please respond, thanks.
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