- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

An Anne Arundel County decision yesterday to put an end to the largest DARE program in Maryland was the latest blow to hit the national anti-drug program as debate mounts over the program’s effectiveness.

The move to drop the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program from elementary school curriculums was prompted by budget cutbacks and a push to broaden the role police officers play in the lives of high school students. School officials want to put police officers in high schools.

Ann Arundel officials said the program, which reached about 25,000 children last year, was too focused on teaching 10- and 11-year-old children.

DARE uses officers in classrooms, beginning in elementary school, to warn children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and peer pressure.

Eastern Maryland is not the first to “just say no” to the program. Austin; Baltimore; Boulder, Colo.; Oklahoma City; San Antonio; and Tulsa, Okla., also have dropped it in recent years.

Funded mainly by local police departments, DARE grew quickly after its origin in 1983 in Los Angeles to become the most prominent drug-education program in the country. With a curriculum designed by the nonprofit DARE America headquarters, about 44 countries from Europe to South America also have come to operate their own DARE programs.

But as it expanded in the United States, more attention was paid to whether DARE works. A 2001 U.S. surgeon general’s report on youth violence said the program “is implemented too early in child development” and described it as a school-based universal prevention program that “meets the criteria for Does Not Work.”

“It receives substantial support from parents, teachers, police and government funding agencies, and its popularity persists despite well-designed evaluations and meta-analyses that consistently show little or no deterrent effects on substance abuse,” the report stated.

A report issued in January by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that DARE had “no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use.”

DARE America spokesman Ralph B. Lockridge dismissed the surgeon general and GAO reports yesterday. “Neither actually did a study of DARE,” he said. “What they did was a literature review of past studies, studies that were flawed, studies that were done by researchers who compared DARE with their own for-profit programs that they design and sell.”

Mr. Lockridge said DARE America has taken aggressive steps to improve the program based on criticisms during the past few years. The biggest change, he said, was that the overall DARE curriculum now focuses on kindergarten through 12th grade, although school districts often do not embrace the 12-year program.

He added that while “there have been a number of places that have dropped DARE … in the last three or four years we have had literally, I would say, a thousand programs added.”

“In most cases, what’s happening is that because there’s been criticism of the program, it’s allowed police departments to drop the program and say, if we’re not sure the program is effective, we need that officer back in a patrol car,” Mr. Lockridge said. “It becomes a matter of funding.”

However, officials in Oklahoma City, which dropped DARE in 2000, said local police are sticking to a program they designed to better fit the needs of their school districts.

“The police department decided DARE was an outdated program with too many restrictions,” said Sherry Fair, a spokesman for Oklahoma City Public Schools. She said a locally designed program called “Challenge” is only six weeks long, compared with the 17 weeks of hourlong course that make up the DARE curriculum.

Lt. Phil West, a spokesman of the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department, said DARE was dropped in 1998 after being implemented there for about six years because school officials decided it “wasn’t flexible enough to meet our local needs.”

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