Pubdate: Sun, 21 Apr 2002
Source: Cape Cod Times (MA)
Copyright: 2002 Cape Cod Times
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)


State funding cuts will force schools to judge the effectiveness of 
the world's most popular drug-education program.

Perhaps a funding cut from higher up is, in the end, the most 
merciful way to end the DARE program in Massachusetts.

Certainly, few school or community leaders, including newspaper 
editors, have been willing to evaluate, in a public-policy sort of 
way, a program that has become synonymous with helping children make 
good choices and promoting community values. A word against DARE is 
like a word against motherhood and apple pie. Or for drugs.

But the fact is DARE - Drug Awareness Resistance Education - has come 
in for increasing criticism in recent years, and may have run its 
course as a social movement. The time is right for something new, and 
the state cut in DARE money that pays police department salaries at 
least offers a chance to start the conversation.

As a community resource, DARE is not the Bible, inviolate. The 
package of printed material and the training video for instructors 
has changed over the years, shifting its message from drug education 
to guns, date rape, tobacco, gang violence or bullying, depending on 
the issues in the community. The one consistent thing is that it 
provides an avenue for police officers to present themselves to kids, 
and vice versa. In Sandwich, where a $15,000 state grant helps pay 
for school shifts, Officer Brian Bondarek has used his DARE podium to 
talk to fifth- graders about cancer rates and coping with feelings 
during divorce.

Among the critics, the issue of police as teachers has always been 
problematic. Would an officer sworn to uphold the anti-drug party 
line be able to speak truthfully about the real world, or would his 
presence push children further away? Would the science and sociology 
hold up, or just rehash what passes for common knowledge down at the 
station house? As high-stakes testing makes school class time more 
valuable, can administrators justify the time devoted to open-ended, 
touchy-feely DARE meetings, especially if the same topics are being 
covered in other classes?

Skeptics ask whether school resources aren't being stretched too thin 
trying to offer a program on every social ill that comes down the 

The most pointed criticism takes on DARE's very reason to be - its 
effectiveness. Follow-up surveys tried to measure whether the anti- 
drug message stayed and made a difference as children got older and 
faced more temptation. Predictably, it did not. But what is the 
alternative, DARE supporters ask? From a public-policy view, that is 
precisely the question: Is loyalty to DARE, now almost 20 years old 
and holding an 80-percent, publically subsidized domination of the 
drug-education field, preventing the development of new programs with 
better credentials?

The DARE money on the state chopping block is a drop in the bucket, 
$4.3 million statewide, about $150,000 for Cape and islands towns. 
The top amount in any one Cape town is only $15,000. Many towns fund 
in- school police resource officers and visits from the regular 
budget, and that work should continue if it has proven valuable.

DARE need not be mourned if its demise allows schools to reassess and 
reinvigorate their offerings and the ways they serve the community.
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