2001 — the year in review:
Has the DARE curriculum gone to pot?
DARE — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — remains the most widely used anti-drug program in the nation, but the defection this year of a number of medium and large cities, coupled with increasing criticism by researchers, finally forced a change in curriculum and the initiative’s first-ever evaluation.
In danger of losing federal funding, DARE officials finally conceded in February that their program needed an overhaul. In 1999, federal education officials said they would no longer allow schools to spend money from the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools on the DARE program because it had not been scientifically proven effective.
In September, a six-year study released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that DARE courses and zero-tolerance policies are ineffective in preventing drug use among middle and high school students. The program shows little evidence, it said, of “any extended impact on student smoking, drinking or drug use.” Some 61 percent of high school-age teens and 40 percent of middle school-age children told researchers that drugs are used, kept and sold in their schools.
With $13.7 million in funding provided to DARE last year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health-care philanthropy, the development of a new anti-drug curriculum got underway at the University of Akron. The redesign and subsequent longitudinal study will be carried out by the former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Zili Sloboda. In response to a key complaint by researchers about DARE — that officers served as lecturers to students — the redesigned program will emphasize role-playing, with police acting as coaches. Students will be encouraged to challenge social norms in discussion groups. Also, the program will focus on seventh- and ninth-graders, which are said to be the years when drug experimentation is more likely.
The new curriculum will be tried out first in New York, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles, in 80 high schools and the 176 middle schools that feed into them. Half will use the revised approach and the others the old DARE curriculum. Students will be surveyed before and after the seventh and ninth grades, and more extensively after eighth, 10th and 11th grades, Sloboda told The New York Times.
Said former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson: “A decision was made in [the Justice Department], sitting around Janet Reno’s conference table, that we should mend it, not end it. We were realists.”
Although DARE remains extremely popular with law enforcement, it lost some ground last year.
In Council Bluffs, Iowa, school district officials said in April that they would be replacing DARE in elementary schools with a locally developed approach. Schools there will continue to teach the DARE program’s three main principles: building decision-making skills to resist drugs, peer pressure and violence; the emotional, social and economic effects of drugs; and providing alternatives to drug use. But instead of the 17 hours a year the DARE program takes, the Council Bluffs curriculum will take four hours a year.
Officers involved in the three-year-old TEAM Nebraska anti-drug program in Omaha will focus their efforts on fifth-graders in just a few schools each quarter. The modification will allow them to develop relationships with youngsters over the course of an entire three-month period.
The Nueces County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department decided in September that it will no longer use drug-forfeiture money to pay for the DARE program. The department previously lost its county funding for DARE in 1999.