STUDIES LOOK INTO DARE PROGRAM'S EFFECTIVENESS
Sixth-grader David Montion graduated last week from Abraham Lincoln School's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, better known as DARE. The Simi Valley 13-year-old said he might want to be a police officer when he gets older.
DARE is an officer-led series of classroom sessions intended to give students like David the tools to avoid drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence.
The program is most often offered to fifth- and sixth-graders and focuses on helping them to resist peer pressure and build decision-making skills.
The program was founded in Los Angeles in 1983. Its Web site says it now is used by 75 percent of the nation's school districts.
David said he's happy to have finished the program and thinks it will help him avoid using drugs. His school was one of 15 in Simi Valley holding DARE graduations in May and June.
"If I do drugs, I will die and never get older and do things that I want when I grow up," he said.
Some studies, however, have stirred questions about DARE's effectiveness.
A 2001 report, "Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General," released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that "evidence on the effects of the traditional DARE curriculum ... shows that children who participate are as likely to use drugs as those who do not participate."
"There's not been a single scientific study that demonstrated the program is effective," said David J. Hanson, a retired professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam.
Studies that evaluate the effectiveness of such programs select and monitor two groups of children of the same age and racial and socio-economic backgrounds. One group is exposed to the DARE program while the other is not. They are monitored as they move through life to see whether they become involved in drugs, violence or gang activity.
Hanson, who has appeared on "NBC Nightly News" as an alcohol expert, said the doubts about DARE have not been well-publicized. "Many constituencies believe it works," he said.
But Lincoln Principal Deborah Riley, 59, who has a doctorate in administration and supervision and has been an educator for 31 years, said she is not convinced by such research.
"I'm really impressed by the program," Riley said. "Those kids know it's not OK to use drugs and alcohol.
"I would like to see some real solid, longitudinal research on DARE. There is good research, but can research be better?"
Dale Brown, the 63-year-old regional director of DARE America, said such studies are already under way. "The DARE program is all new and based on the latest research," he said.
Brown was referring to an ongoing study at the University of Akron in Ohio. The study began in 2001 is following more than 20,000 students from six U.S. cities. Based on the research so far, the university recently rewrote DARE's curriculum to meet updated teaching methods. The updates focus on sound decision-making and significantly cutting the number of sessions involved.
"We're trying to make it a much more manageable program," Brown said.
Despite DARE's new curriculum, Hanson said, he remains critical, calling the program "a moving target."
"I think we can summarize by saying it's the hope of victory over reality," he said. "If you're doing a program that doesn't work, what could you be doing that does work?"
Brown said he's confident the new program will be effective, and fighting the idea that DARE doesn't work is one of his main concerns. "That is the battle I seem to spend the most time on," he said.
Riley said she thinks it's a great resource for young people to be able to talk to police officers about the tough issues of drugs and alcohol. "It is really good for our kids," she said. [/FONT]