Insight Web Hub
Comments to

by Amanda Beeler, Chicago Tribune    2 Aug, 1999

District 102 To Offer New Curriculum To 6th Graders

Under various acronyms, programs designed to warn young children about the dangers of drug use abound in local schools. The program of choice in most districts is Drug Abuse Resistance Education, better known as D.A.R.E.

But a new study published Sunday in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, echoes findings of several other reports that show the program, taught by local police officers in 80 percent of elementary school districts nationwide, does not affect a child's decision regarding drug use in the future.

The study tracked half of the 2,000 Lexington, Ky., students who previously had been surveyed about drug use during high school. Don Lyman, the University of Kentucky psychology professor who surveyed the students 10 years after their 6th-grade D.A.R.E. program, said he wasn't surprised by his findings.

Among the students who responded to Lyman's survey, 23 percent reported smoking at least a half pack of cigarettes a day over the past year; 30 percent had consumed 40 or more drinks in the past year; 46 percent reported using marijuana; and 24 percent reported using other drugs in the past year.

Lyman compared those responses to those of people who were never exposed to the D.A.R.E. program.

"Whether you went through D.A.R.E. or not, you had the same chance of using drugs," Lyman said.

The new study, which tracks students for an extended period, should serve as a reminder that the program doesn't have a measurable benefit, he said.

"I think it's awfully hard to touch (drug) use in these kids through these programs," he said. "It's not worth giving up efforts to try to find something (that works), but it's worth giving up things we know don't work.

"Doctors used to bleed patients centuries ago as a cure but it didn't work."

In the Chicago area, concerns about the effectiveness of D.A.R.E. led a committee at Aptakisic-Tripp District 102 in Buffalo Grove to cancel its 5th-grade D.A.R.E. program last year and re-examine its goals.

The new curriculum that will be taught to 6th graders at the end of the coming school year contains similar concepts to D.A.R.E but is vastly different.

"It's almost totally a child-centered based learning approach," Aptakisic-Tripp Supt. Douglas Parks said of the schools' new CODE program. "It taps into kids' interests, engages them in planning their own learning and in doing research that is relevant to their interests."

CODE stands for Community Organized Drug Education. But the name is also a symbol for the code of conduct each class of students will develop for themselves during the program.

Jim Yester, a Buffalo Grove police officer and D.A.R.E. officer in the District 21 schools, helped Aptakisic-Tripp develop a program that was similar to the teaching style at the school. Students will be responsible for researching topics and coming up with their own questions and answers about drug use, violence and self-esteem.

"With D.A.R.E. that was not possible," Yester said. "The police officers (who teach D.A.R.E.) are not educators; they're trained and can't just deviate from the curriculum they have."

Ultimately, Yester said he believes programs like D.A.R.E. are worthwhile. "There are always going to be kids that won't do it and kids that will," he said. "For the kids sitting on the fence that could go either way, I'd like to believe that programs like D.A.R.E. or CODE . . . are going to help some of them come off the fence post and not get involved in drugs and those things."

D.A.R.E. America President Glenn Levant agrees.

Levant said studies that look at just one portion of the D.A.R.E. program to judge effectiveness over time are judging an incomplete picture of the program, which is continually changing and improving.

"The D.A.R.E. program is designed to be implemented in kindergarten through high school," Levant said. Expecting 20-year-olds to remember lessons taught to them in 6th grade is not realistic, he added.

Although the D.A.R.E. program, which began in Los Angeles elementary schools in 1983, expanded within five years to middle schools and high schools, the vast majority of districts offering the program use the elementary school program.

Levant said he doesn't mind criticism of the program as long as it leads to suggestions about improvements.

"We don't claim to be the end-all-be-all or the silver bullet," he said. "We're part of the big picture which first and foremost relies on the parents or the head of household."


Yet another study has called into question the effectiveness of the anti-drug education program D.A.R.E., which is conducted in 80 percent of the schools in America. Donald R. Lynam and other researchers at the University of Kentucky tracked 1,000 students in one county who participated in D.A.R.E. in the sixth grade.

It tracked them down at age 20, or 10 years later, and found that while D.A.R.E. had made some initial impression about their attitudes toward drugs, it ultimately had no influence on the decisions they eventually made. Their rates of drug use were no different from those of other students.

Dr. Lynam suggested that perhaps D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) over-emphasizes peer pressure at the expense of other influences such as curiosity or thrill-seeking )which some D.A.R.E. critics accuse D.A.R.E. of actually encouraging).

In any event, Dr. Lynam's research supports the decisions of many cities to drop D.A.R.E. as an ineffective strategy, and move on.

Move on to what? That's the retort from D.A.R.E. supporters, who rightly point out that there isn't much else out there to replace it. Of course, that could be because D.A.R.E. has a lock on the market, if only because it appeals on so many levels.

Eventually, though, it won't pay to pursue a strategy that doesn't work, even if it doesn't hurt, because if we are going to combat drug abuse we are going to have to be hard-headed about whether our tools are working.

After years of D.A.R.E., the evidence is accumulating that it doesn't perform as advertised. That comes as a threat to those who advocate it and who pour their hearts and their time into it, but a consensus is building against it.

We criticize other well-intentioned educational methods as being counterproductive when they don't deliver the goods, such as higher math or reading scores.

There is no reason that D.A.R.E. should not be subjected to the same scrutiny.

Thinking it works is not, as we are seeing, the same as knowing.