Early results of an evaluation of an overhauled version of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education curriculum, or DARE, are giving its advocates new hope for the often-criticized program’s future.
Researchers at the University of Akron in Ohio found that 7th graders in six cities who took part in a revised DARE curriculum were more likely than a control group to consider drug use to be socially inappropriate, more skilled at refusing drugs, and less likely to say they would use chemical inhalants.
“The findings from the first year are telling us that the program did what we wanted it to by changing normative beliefs and building refusal skills,” said the study’s lead investigator, Zili Sloboda, a senior research associate at the University of Akron’s Institute for Health and Social Policy.
The results, released Oct. 29, are the first from a five-year evaluation of DARE financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that will follow about 15,500 students from 7th grade through the 11th grade. Roughly half will be taught with the new curriculum and be compared with a control group of students whose schools do not use the revised versions of the program. The control group includes schools that use the old version of the curriculum and schools that do not use any version of DARE.
The intent of the new 7th grade program, its authors say, is to correct misconceptions that adolescents have about the prevalence of substance use among their peers; to help students recognize the health, social, and legal consequences of illegal drug use; and to acquire the communication and decisionmaking skills necessary to abstain from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
Using pre- and post-program surveys and a complex scoring process, the researchers found that decisionmaking scores for the schools using the new curriculum were 6 percent higher than those of schools in the control group, and scores on students’ ability to refuse drugs were 5 percent higher.
Also, fewer students in the program said they would use inhalants, with scores that were 4 percent lower than schools without the new DARE.
The researchers said that because the results are preliminary, the data do not include a statistical margin of error.
Some Urge Caution
Created by Los Angeles police officials in 1983, DARE aims to curb childhood and adolescent drug use by having officers come to schools to teach about the dangers of substance abuse. The program has undergone nine revisions since its inception.
DARE administrators announced the latest incarnation of the program last year, saying they would overhaul their curriculum to focus more attention on grades 7 and 9. (“DARE Anti-Drug Program to Shift Strategy,” Feb. 21, 2001.) Program officials say DARE is used in 80 percent of U.S. school districts, mostly in the elementary grades.
The new DARE will use DARE police officers as facilitators for student participation rather than as lecturers.
Critics of the old curriculum charged that it failed to prevent drug use and did not include content that research has found to be most effective in heading off drug use by youngsters.
Glenn Levant, the president of DARE America, a nonprofit organization based in Inglewood, Calif., hailed the results from the 7th grade pilot program as evidence that the latest version of the program is ready for a nationwide launch.
But experts in drug prevention cautioned against moving forward too quickly.
“I’m pleased that they’re taking into account what the research says works, and I think we need to be pleased that the program appears to be going in the right direction, but the gains are very small,” said Mathea Falco, the president of Drug Strategies, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “The real test is what happens in the follow-up as the students get older. We can’t predict how this will come out.”
Dennis P. Rosenbaum, the director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, called the results “very mixed” and suggested that the researchers set low expectations for the new program at the outset.
“There are some encouraging findings, but we need to be critical because of the contentious debate that has surrounded this program,” said Mr. Rosenbaum, who has done extensive research on DARE.
But DARE officials are moving ahead with the curriculum.
“We don’t believe we can wait the full five years to fully implement this program,” said James J. McGivney, DARE America’s mid- Atlantic director. “We believe we have a good program, and it’s research- and science-based, and if it requires changes in the future—which it will—we can do that.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Researchers See Promising Signs In DARE’s New Drug Ed. Program