Quotes for Note


From: "The Irrelevance of Evidence in the Development of school-based drug prevention policy," 1986-1996" by D. M. Gorman, Evaluation Review, vol 22, no 1, February 1998 118-146.

"The evidence presented herein, from both national surveys and program evaluations, shows that we have yet to develop successful techniques of school-based drug prevention. The claims made on behalf of this aspect of the nation's drug control strategy are largely unsupported by empirical data. Evidence is cited to selectively support the use of certain programs, and there is virtually no systematic testing of interventions developed in line with competing theoretical models of adolescent drug use."

"Programs can be proven to have 'worked' because the standards by which they are judged can be continuously lowered. Questions are raised about those who dispute claims of effectiveness regarding the chosen policies. The issue becomes not whether the stated goals and objectives of programs are being met, but the commitment and motives of critics. The burden of proof is placed on them to demonstrate the detrimental effects of policies and programs, whereas advocates are free to make lavish claims of success and value to society."

p. 122:
Kinder, Pape and Walfish (1980) reviewed evaluation studies from the late 1960s and early 1970s, most of which were concerned with information-based programs. As with earlier reviews, they concluded that these programs were ineffective in reducing drug use and might even serve to exacerbate the problem. Goodstadt (1980), addressing the issue of counterproductivity in greater detail, concluded that the available evidence indicated "that 'negative' program effects were not an isolated phenomena, but occur frequently enough and affect self-reported behavior often enough to require more careful scrutiny" (p. 94).

Thus, by 1980 there was little evidence available from program evaluations to support the idea that school-based education was among the "essential components" of a comprehensive drug control strategy. Indeed, in the opinion of many researchers, such education was apt to do more harm than good.

p. 123:
The findings of the two favorable studies are far from compelling. [details omitted] The other four studies shown in Table I found no statistically significant differences in patterns or levels of illicit drug use between recipients of social influence programs and comparison subjects at follow-up. The bulk of the available evidence therefore indicated that social influence programs were little better than earlier programs. In short, by 1986, when the federal government committed more than $200 million to school-based programs to fight illicit drug use, evidence indicating effectiveness of this strategy was almost nonexistent

page 135:
Differences between ALERT subjects and comparisons were nonexistent at the 10th and 12th grade follow-up. Ellickson, Bell and McGuigan (1993) attribute this to the absence of booster sessions in the schools after the first year of the program, and call for additional research to develop and test such efforts. This ignores the fact that the short-term effects of ALERT were minimal. Why would high and moderate risk subjects benefit from more of the program? Why is more evaluation required? As Ellickson (1995) observes, booster sessions are intended to "extend program effects." For ALERT, there were essentially no program effects to extend.

The latter aspect of the ALERT evaluation illustrates a peculiar feature of school-based drug prevention research during the past 10 years: Whatever the outcome, the recommendation is for more of the program and more evaluation. With the exception of D.A.R.E., negative findings are seldom accompanied by a suggestion that we try something else. Information and affective programs of earlier years were unable to survive negative evaluations; in contrast, social influence programs invariably live to fight another day.

page 139:
The evidence presented herein, from both national surveys and program evaluations, shows that we have yet to develop successful techniques of school-based drug prevention. The claims made on behalf of this aspect of the nation's drug control policy are largely unsupported by empirical data. Evidence is cited selectively to support the use of certain programs, and there is virtually no systematic testing of interventions developed in line with competing theoretical models of adolescent drug use.

page 141:
The question remains as to why policy makers champion drug prevention programs that have so little grounding in empirical research. In considering this, it is instructive to recall that for close to 30 years, Soviet agricultural policy was developed in accordance with the theories and research of Trofim Lysenko. According to Lysenko's theory of inherited acquired characteristics, it was possible to transform one crop into another (e.g. wheat into rye) through changing its environment (e.g. by planting it in a different season). Lysenko's "science" thrived under Stalin's regime, in the face of disastrous consequences, as it was totally in accord with the prevailing political philosophy: research data were irrelevant. Similarly, the belief that school-based programs can teach children the skills to be "drug free" is entirely in keeping with the individually oriented, zero-tolerance orthodoxy of current U.S. drug control policy. The programs thrive not because research demonstrates their efficacy and superiority over competing approaches, but because the principles upon which they are based are compatible with the prevailing wisdom that exists among policy makers and politicians. And, judging from recent government publications and the viciousness with which critics are attacked, the uncritical acceptance of school-based social skills training seems likely to continue into the near future.

D.M. Gorman, Rutgers University, Center for Alcohol Studies: "The Failure of Drug Education," Public Interest, Fall 1997.

"With regard to education, the available evidence indicates that we have yet to develop strategies that can significantly reduce illicit drug use among young people. We could almost certainly stop funding certain activities, such as school-based prevention programs, with no adverse consequences. However, givn the bi-partisan popularity of drug education, dramatic reductions in federal drug-prevention funding are unlikely to occur, at least in the near future. In the meantime, local agencies such as school boards and city councils need to establish exactly what their drug-prevention dollars are buying. They should cease funding activities that have the potential to do harm and ensure that claims concerning new, more effective programs are subject to assessment by independent observers. Until that is done no one will know whether education efforts are doing more harm than good."

"However, unlike other aspects of drug-control policy, prevention or education has been hardly analyzed. Law enforcement and interdiction efforts have been the subject of debate in both the popular press and academic circles, as have such such treatments as needle exchange and methadone maintenance. In contrast, prevention is simply assumed to be laudable enterprise, and, as will be be discussed later, the claims of its proponents are uncritically accepted by the press and policy makers. But is it really the case that such programs succeed? And, more particularly, did federal spending on drug-prevention activities play a role in reducing adolescent drug use over the past 10 years?"

"Examination of data contained in the two documents reveals drug use was falling steadily among young people prior to the increase in government spending that occurred in the late 1980s. By 1987, when federal spending really began to accelerate, the proportion of twelfth graders reporting use of any illicit substance had already fallen to 25 percent, from its peak high of 39 percent in 1979. (some statistics omitted) However, the above statistics are sufficient to address the fundamental issue raised by advocates of current drug-prevention policies and programs--namely, whether a sustained level of federal funding is necessary to reduce drug use among young people. Clearly, the impact is negligible. Indeed, federal spending on drug-education programs and activities might have made things worse.

(Traces history of spending and mentions that there is some lag effect of 3 to 5 years between appropriation of moneys for drug-prevention programs and the manifestations of their effects on rates of adolescent drug use. "Accordingly, the period of rapid federal spending, which commenced in 1987, coincides --closely in the case of a three-year lag, or exactly in the case of a five-year lag -- to the period of increased drug use (1992 to 1995)."

"How might federal spending on drug prevention have encourage drug use? This is a difficult question to answer, as details on exactly how the money is spent are sparse and controlled studies of programs are rare. However, an examination of school-based-prevention programs--the mainstay of drug prevention in the United States--suggests why drug prevention activities might have unintended consequences."

p. 55
"Prior to the mid 1980s, there existed little or no research indicating that school-based prevention was an effective means of reducing drug use among young people. Indeed, many researchers believed that such education could do as much harm as good. Writing in the Journal of Drug Education in 1980, Michael Goodstadt a prevention researcher at the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto, concluded that available evidence indicated "that 'negative' program effects were not an isolated phenomena, but occur frequently enough and affect self-reported behavior often enough to require more careful scrutiny." Nor was this opinion exclusively held by academics. The Second Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, published in 1973, recommended that policy makers should "seriously consider declaring a moratorium on all drug education programs in schools at least until programs already in operation have been evaluated and a coherent approach with realistic objectives has been developed."

"Social-influence programs retained the zero-tolerance message of their predecessors--all drug use was considered harmful and wrong. In addition, however, students were now taught the social skills that were supposedly necessary to remain drug free. In some cases, the programs employeed a narrowly focused approach primarily concerned with teaching drug-resistance skills, in others, a broad-based approach was used to enhance a wide range of "life skills".

"The programs attempt to teach "affective techniques." such as assertiveness training, self-esteem enhancement, and improved decision making. A person who possesses these skills , it is argued, is better able to cope with life and, hence has no reason to experiment with drugs. In short, the underlying assumption is that young people who use drugs are socially incompetent. But there is little empirical evidence to support this idea." (Contradictory article is Shedler and Block, 1990 American Psychologist)

Discussion of two papers omitted, which have results that are not compelling for the social-influences approach.

p. 57
"Some researchers will now admit that drug-education programs do not work. They are especially willing to criticize the widely adopted DARE program."

Discussion of Life Skills Training omitted. Says claims made on behalf the program are largely unsupported.

p. 60
"Moreover, nobody really knows what an effective drug-education program would look like. ... There never was, and nor is there now, strong empirical evidence to show that social-influence programs can succeed where previous forms of drug prevention activities failed. ... We need to be guided by evidence concerning the effects of a particular approach to drug use, not by what we hope its effects will be or by the assumed good intentions of those who develop and implement programmatic activities.

With regard to education, the available evidence indicates that we have yet to develop strategies that can significantly reduce illicit drug use among young people. We could almost certainly stop funding certain activities, such as school-based prevention programs, with no adverse consequences, However, given the bi-partisan popularity of drug education, dramatic reductions in federal drug-prevention funding are unlikely to occur, at least in the near future. In the meantime, local agencies such as school-boards and city councils need to establish exactly what their drug-prevention dollars are buying. They should cease funding activities that have the potential to do harm and ensure that claims concerning new, more effective programs are subject to assessment by independent observers. Until that is done no one will know whether education efforts are doing more harm than good."

"How D.A.R.E. Works: An Examination of Program Effects on Mediating Variables", by William B. Hansen Ph.D. and Ralph B. McNeal,Jr. Ph.D., Health Education and Behavorior, vol 24, (2) 165-176 (April 1997)

p. 165:
"There has been extensive speculation about, but little research on, the question of why the program has failed and what must be done in order to make the approach of using police officers in the classroom effective."

p. 167:
The mediating variables considered were: "beliefs about consequences, decision making skills, goal-setting skills, self-esteem, stress management skills, social and life skills, perceived alternatives to drug use, assistance skills, resistance skills, the incongruence between values and substance use, manifestations of a commitment to not use substances, normative beliefs."

p. 169:
"Analyses revealed that the D.A.R.E. program had nonsignificant effects on alcohol use, illegal drug use, steriod use, inhalent use and drug selling and dealing. Only main effects on smoking cigarettes and smokeless tobacco use were significant. Thus, with the exception of tobacco, the program failed to significantly lower all of the substances measured. This finding corroborates previous research findings."

p. 173:
Reasons for Program Success and Failure "From the analyses completed, a compelling picture emerges that the presence of weak effects on tobacco use and the lack of consistent effects on other substances may have much to do with the failure of the curriculum: D.A.R.E. is either targeting inappropriate mediating processes or insufficiently affecting appropriate mediating constructs."

"A salient element of D.A.R.E. has been teaching resistance skills. Based on mediated relationships, this approach should have been effective at least with cigarate smoking. However, D.A.R.E. failed to achieve a marked improvement in this mediator, suggesting that either teaching methods or program content was inadequate. The curriculum similarly addressed but failed to change self-esteem among the participants. Based on the analysis of mediator potential, addressing these issues is likely to have less payoff than addressing such variables as commitment, normative beliefs, and perceptions of value and lifestyle incongruence with substance use."

Conclusion

"D.A.R.E. has been consistently characterized as a program that has minimially positive preventive effects on substance use. The most consistent positive finding is a slight reduction in tobacco use. The effects appear to be primarily accounted for by changes in commitment to not use substances: the program enhances this committment. Other mediators that might have accounted for behaviorial effects were either not targeted or were not changed by the program; for example, the mediated paths that go through normative beliefs and the incongruence between lifestyle and values did not approach signficance. This suggests that either these paths were not targeted or the program produced no meaningful effect on them. The implications of these findings is that prevention approaches such as D.A.R.E. need significant curriculum enhancements. In the case of the tested D.A.R.E. curriculum, it may need to be replaced by a curriculum that has the potential to target and alter variables that truly mediate substance use and other problem behaviors."

Address reprint requests to :
William B. Hansen, PhD
Tanglewood Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 1772
Clemmons NC 27012
phone and fax: 910 766-3940
email: hansen@phs.begsm.wfu.edu

Speech given to township committee at their budget hearing on DARE, in an effort to have them defund it. Here is what was read.

The Police: The D.A.R.E. program that the police run is a waste of the taxpayers money. This has been documented in numerous studies. The latest study is from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is funded by the Illinois State police. Let me give you its main conclusions:

p. 24
"Suburban students who participated in D.A.R.E. reported significantly higher rates of drug use on all four composite indices than suburban students who did not participate in the program."

p. 26
"Specifically, the main finding is that levels of drug use (using a variety of measures and analyses) did not differ as a function of whether students participated in D.A.R.E. or did not. Across many settings and research projects, D.A.R.E. has been unable to show consistent preventive effects on drug use, and the observed effects have been small in size and short-lived."

p. 28
"The present study found that D.A.R.E. had the most beneficial effect on urban children and the fewest beneficial effects on suburban children. In fact there is some evidence of a possible boomerang effect among suburban kids. That is, suburban students who were D.A.R.E. graduates scored higher than suburban students in the Control group on all four major drug use measures.

p. 30
"At this point in time, the best available evidence suggests that D.A.R.E. may be having different effects in different communities, and may need to be adjusted accordingly." "The next step is for concerned communities, armed with the best available knowledge about effective program practices, to develop their own prevention plans with full recognition that are there are no simple solutions to complex social problems."

A paper entitled "Students and Educators Evaluate California School-based Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco, Education programs" by Joel Brown and 4 other authors prepared for the California State Department of Education, March 1995 recommends the following:

Discontinue primarily harmful consequences educational services. "Even though many students can display the rote knowledge that any substance use is unhealthy, at the same time during the early grades, students show little or no evidence of understanding harmful consequences information. Elementary-level students showed, and high school students retrospectively stated, that when they were in elementary school, they did not understand the harmful consequences that the DARE officer spoke of. At the same time, evidence clearly shows that by middle or high schools, programs like DARE, Red Ribbon Weeks, and Health/Science courses containing the primarily harmful consequences of use are far too simplistic for sophisticated student perceptions."

An article in Reason magazine for March 1995 explains some of the reasons for the failure of D.A.R.E. DARE was being studied by a team of researchers from the University of Southern California. They discovered that DARE was using "affective" education and that such education was linked to the dreaded "boomerang" effect in which children are actually encouraged to fiddle with drugs.

An article in New Republic for March of 1997 by Stephen Glass documents the efforts of DARE America to interfere with publication of peer-reviewed studies of DARE and its effects. And that they tried to block NBC from broadcasting a DATELINE segment on DARE in February of 1997. By the way I have a tape of that segment if you would like to see it.

Another article on DARE in Evaluation Review for April 1995 by William Hansen and Ralph McNeal Jr, states: "Overall the program has not demonstrated effectiveness worthy of its widespread promotion, particularly given the much larger effects typically observed among other existing prevention programs." (p. 155) And "there is a general pattern of findings that seem to converge on D.A.R.E. having no or minimal effects on substance use."

Two federal agencies that evaluate drug education programs do not recommend D.A.R.E. D.A.R.E. is known to be a failure based on at least half a dozen independent peer reviewed studies. We should follow the example of many other towns across the country who have eliminated the D.A.R.E. program. I can provide you with a list of those towns.

In the past we were told by the Township Committee that D.A.R.E. was mandated by the New Jersey Attorney General. However I have a letter from the Attorney General's office which states: "The Statewide Narcotics Task Force does not interpret Directive 2.7 to require implementation of curriculum as provided by the D.A.R.E. America Corporation. The various drug education programs listed on page 33-35 of the Statewide Narcotics Action Plan are alternative program suggestions for drug education programs which could be provided to comply with Directive 2.7 of the Plan. Likewise, municipalities could comply with Directive 2.7 by developing their own initiative to provide drug education within their schools."

The program is not mandated if the municipality already has a drug education program. Our school district has at least 3 such programs and the school administration informs me by letter that they are satisfied with those other programs. Let's put officers on the street and not in the classroom or playground.


 

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