Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the 30th Annual D.A.R.E. International Training Conference. He praised the nearly 35-year-old anti-drug curriculum taught in thousands of schools in every state in America and 52 other countries.
Criticism from the media was swift. The Washington Examiner was one of many news organizations to throw shade on the Attorney General's belief that America needs the D.A.R.E. program today more than ever. The headline on the July 11 news story simply writes off the program as "failed," as if it were some sort of settled fact.
But it isn't so, and the evidence cited to that effect is completely outdated.
The Examiner's reporter did not contact us about this story, which is a shame. Instead, she cited as evidence of D.A.R.E.'s alleged ineffectiveness a 2003 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which itself relied for its conclusions on even older studies published between 1991 and 1998.
We would have loved to talk to her, because these ancient studies looked at an old D.A.R.E. curriculum that was long ago replaced in middle schools with a rigorous and scientific approach, which we have adopted more recently in elementary schools as well.
A call to D.A.R.E. would have illuminated this fact. It also would have resulted in a direct referral to a principal researcher who was involved in the older studies cited. This might have put research of D.A.R.E. in the '80s and '90s in the proper context of the D.A.R.E. curricula of 2017.
Simply stated, the 1996 study and other outdated studies that reporters have repeatedly cited are irrelevant to the program's effectiveness today. Nearly 10 years ago, D.A.R.E. America formed an alliance with The Pennsylvania State University and adopted the evidenced-based keepin' it REAL (kiR) curriculum for its middle school program. The kiR program was developed by Penn State and Arizona State University with support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, utilizing rigorous longitudinal scientific evaluations to create an evidence-based program. Later, in 2013, D.A.R.E. adopted the keepin' it REAL elementary school curriculum.
We would have also liked to point the Examiner in the direction of the United States Surgeon General's recent landmark report entitled Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. That exhaustive report's chapter dedicated to prevention states: "The good news is that there is strong scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of prevention programs and policies." The report lists the keepin' it REAL curriculum among a select number of select programs the Surgeon General identifies as building social, emotional, cognitive, and substance refusal skills that provide children accurate information on rates and amounts of peer substance use.
D.A.R.E.'s mission today is teaching students good decision-making skills for safe and healthy living. D.A.R.E. education programs are a collaborative effort of the essential components of a community – students, parents, schools, law enforcement, and community leaders. Perhaps your reporter and others would benefit from a D.A.R.E. lesson on responsible decision-making to help them make better choices when writing stories.
Richard Mahan is director of communications for D.A.R.E.
Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.