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The Debate Over D.A.R.E.


May-June 1997


Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) was founded by Police Chief Darryl Gates in Los Angeles in 1983. Currently, it operates in 70% of the nation's public schools, uses 25,000 police officers, and teaches 5 million children a year at a cost of over $750 million. DARE classes were originally intended to be K-12, but are now usually provided in fifth and sixth grades.

The core of DARE is a tightly scripted program of drug education, taught by cops from local communities, to instruct children in decision-making skills and self-esteem, in order to prevent drug use.


In September 1994, the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) in North Carolina completed a project sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) which analyzed eight of the top studies of DARE. The researchers concluded that the program had only a short-term effect on reducing drug use, and that several other interaction-based drug education programs were more effective in preventing drug use (Susan Ennett, Nancy Tobler, Christopher Ringwalt, Robert Flewelling, "How Effective is Drug Abuse Education? A Meta-Analysis of Project DARE Outcome Evaluations," American Journal of Public Health, September 1994).

In 1996, University of Kentucky researcher Richard Clayton published a five-year evaluation of the effectiveness of DARE. Using data from 31 elementary schools, Clayton found that any results from DARE were short-term. There are "limited effects of the program upon drug use, greater efficacy with respect to attitudes, social skills, and knowledge, but a general tendency for curriculum effects to decay over time." Bill Alden, deputy director of D.A.R.E. America, has responded to such criticism by saying, "There's a natural erosion that takes place" and that the program cannot "inoculate children for life" (Richard Clayton, Anna Cattarello, Bryan Johnstone, "The Effectiveness of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (Project DARE): 5-Year Follow-up Results," Preventive Medicine, 1996, Vol. 25, p. 307; Robert Greene, "Drug Education not saving kids, U.S. report admits," Charlotte Observer, February 25, 1997, p. 4A).

In February 1997, RTI completed a four-year study sponsored by the Department of Education. The study, which tracked 10,000 fifth and sixth graders from 1991 to 1995, found programs other than DARE to be more successful in preventing drug use and promoting anti-drug attitudes among students. The report recommends that DARE increase emphasis on role-playing and decrease emphasis on self-esteem and establishing negative attitudes toward drugs (E. Suyapa Silvia and Judy Thorne, "School Based Drug Prevention Programs: A Longitudinal Study in Selected School Districts," Research Triangle Institute (Chapel Hill, NC), February 1997; "Drug Education Virtually Ineffective ..." NewsBriefs, March-April 1997).

A study published in March 1997 found the drug-prevention scheme in California schools to be unsuccessful in reaching students. The Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Education programs (DATE), primarily consisted of the DARE program. The research, which combined by quantitative and qualitative methods, and queried over 5,000 schoolchildren, showed that nearly 70% of the students felt that the program had little or no effect on them (Joel Brown, Marianne D'Emidio-Caston, and John Pollard, "Students and Substances: Social Power in Drug Education," Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Spring 1997, vol. 19, no. 1, p. 65-82; "California's Drug Education Programs Ineffective ..." NewsBriefs, March-April 1997).

A March 1997 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) to Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and John Porter (R-IL) on current drug-control strategies examined current drug abuse prevention programs for schoolchildren. Although it did not specifically mention DARE, the report said that the type of prevention approach used by DARE, which emphasizes individual drug resistance skills and problem-solving skills, may not work. According to the report, "these approaches have been used in several notable programs. However, the extent to which these approaches yield results in a wide range of community settings remains an open question." The report named three successful programs: the Adolescent Alcohol Prevention Trial; Life Skills Training Program; and the Midwestern Prevention Project. The first two programs employ a psychosocial approach similar to the DARE program, while the third uses a comprehensive approach (United States General Accounting Office, "Drug Control: Observations on Elements of the Drug Control Strategy," GGD-97-42, Report to Congressional Requesters, March 1997).

In April 1997, a comprehensive study by a team of University of Maryland criminologists for Congress showed that many crime-prevention programs, including drug-education classes in schools, are having very little impact. The report reveals that the effects of DARE classes are short-term and do "not fundamentally change the thinking or behavior of troubled young people or ameliorate the conditions in which they live" (Lawrence Sherman, Denise Gottfredson, Doris MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, and Shawn Bushway, "Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising," National Institute of Justice, April 1997).

According to Denise Gottfredson, who authored the chapter of the study on school-based crime prevention, "DARE does not work to reduce substance use. The program's content, teaching methods, and use of uniformed police officers might explain its weak evaluations."

Ralph Lochridge of D.A.R.E. America admitted that "the lessons erode over time, like anything else," however he defended the ultimate benefits of the program. Gottfredson added, "DARE has its good points. It's in 70% of our schools, so I would never recommend stopping it" (Fox Butterfield, "Most Efforts to Stop Crime Fall Far Short, Study Finds," New York Times, April 16, 1997, p. A20).


DARE has been criticized from many fronts. Educators complain that the police officers sent into the classrooms are not teachers or psychologists. Although the officers undergo eighty hours of training, they are not certified. The classroom teacher is required to stay in the room while the officer is instructing, but he or she is not required to do follow-up activities after the officer leaves.

Other critics say that the program encourages the children to feel overly empowered in their choices. "DARE gives kids the confidence to say no to drugs, and to say yes to drugs. It gives them more confidence than they should have," said Dr. William Colson, a psychologist and Director of the Research Council on Ethnopsychology, on Dateline NBC (February 21, 1997). Even the director of the Safe and Drug Free Schools program for the Department of Education, Bill Modelesky, has criticized DARE for its focus on self-esteem. "It's not supplemented, not focused enough on skills-building, there's too much emphsis on self-esteem, and it needs more interaction with peers," he said (Derek McGinty show, National Public Radio, WAMU-FM, March 28, 1997).

The program also encourages children to report drug use by their parents, emphasized by the "Recognize, Resist, and Report" motto (see "Maine Teenager Sues Town, Police Chief for Using Her as a Drug Informant Against Her Parents," NewsBriefs, January 1997).

DARE has been described as inflexible. Officers are told to "go by the book." Detective Rick Myers, a DARE officer in Arlington, VA described this as a benefit. "The great thing about this program is that everyone in the country is trained the same way. We are told to go exactly by the book. There is no room for modifying the program. No way. It's the same everywhere," (Stephen Glass, "Don't You DARE," The New Republic, March 3, 1997, p. 18).

A two-page letter sent to President Clinton from 133 students at an Arizona High School revealed that students of DARE are dissatisfied as well. DARE, the children wrote, is "juvenile" and "simplistic" (Clare Vlik, "DARE called kids' stuff; Clinton advised on improving it," Arizona Republic, April 29, 1997, p. E1).

One of the students, fourteen-year-old Teanna Earle, told reporters that when she was educated by DARE officials in fifth grade, she felt as though they were treating her like a two-year-old. "They showed us stupid cartoons," she said. Earle's colleague, Vanessa Windes, has some suggestions for DARE. "They should bring in someone who's been through drugs or a mom who had a crack baby, and take kids to the morgue to see people who overdosed or to rehab to see them going through withdrawal and treatment," she said.

The letter, which contained criticisms and suggestions for the improvement of DARE, received a form letter in reply.


Bill Alden, deputy director of D.A.R.E. America (former head of Public Affairs for DEA), has been adamant telling the press that the program works. And, he says, if it's not fully working, it is because it is not fully operational. Alden says that if the program were implemented K-12, instead of just in the 5th and 6th grades, the results would be different. "It doesn't last the lifetime of the child, or even until they are 15 years old, without reinforcement," he said on the Derek McGinty show.

However, the researcher who developed the original idea for DARE, William Hansen of Wake Forest University, admitted in June 1993 that the program needs "an overhaul." "There is evidence that the program doesn't work," he said, adding that "the program should be entirely scrapped and redeveloped." He noted that the program does appear to encourage community relations and is well-organized, but that it does not provide effective methods for preventing drug use among children, who may be receiving the program before they are ready to handle it (Vic Simpson, "Founder says DARE drug program needs overhaul," Chapel Hill News, June 4, 1993, p. A3; Robert Zimmerman, "DARE gets an F," San Diego Union, April 11, 1993, p. G3).


Several school districts, including those in Seattle, Washington; Oakland, California; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have discontinued use of the DARE program in their schools. Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper called DARE a failure, and, faced with cutbacks, chose to cut the DARE program rather than take any officers off the street. "It just hasn't accomplished what it was created to accomplish" he said on Dateline NBC (February 21, 1997). City Councilwoman Sheila Jordan of Oakland said, "I felt like it was a very expensive program with very poor results" (James Bovard, "It takes more than anti-drug slogans," The Washington Times, November 6, 1996, p. A25).


There are alternative programs proposed by DARE's critcs that could replace it. The Parenting Project in Las Vegas, Anchor Connection in Trenton, and Teen-to-Teen in Newark have been cited as three of the best. These programs stress the role of parents in drug-prevention, and the importance of good health. They are frequently evaluated, and involve the larger community ("DARE to be different," The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 1997, p. E6; United States General Accounting Office, "Drug Control: Observations on Elements of Drug Control Strategy," GGD-97-42, Report to Congressional Requesters, March 1997).

A recent legislative agenda announced by the Congressional Black Caucus on May 15 targets the drug problem, and calls for an increase in anti-drug education efforts. "Our communities are devastated by drugs and we're tired of sitting here watching failing programs like 'Just Say No,'" said Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the Caucus (Heather Knight, "Black Caucus to focus on fighting drugs," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), May 16, 1997, p. A4).