Improving the Use of Research Results: The Case of D.A.R.E.

Carol Hirschon Weiss, PhD, and researchers at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education used a case study approach to examine decisions made by middle and high school officials to continue or drop their D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs in the face of evidence that D.A.R.E. did not reduce drug use. Researchers also analyzed the extent to which the officials used evaluation findings in making their decisions.

In addition, Weiss and colleagues examined the evidence behind five programs featured on lists developed by federal agencies and policy centers to help communities select evidence-based substance abuse prevention programs.

Key Findings: Weiss and colleagues reported several findings in a number of journal articles. They include:

  • Districts that reduced or dropped D.A.R.E. were somewhat influenced by evaluation findings, although most knew of the findings largely through media reports. District officials also were likely to drop D.A.R.E. because of a 2001 federal policy requiring the use of evidence-based programs and the release of lists of such programs. D.A.R.E. did not appear on any of the lists.
  • Districts that retained D.A.R.E. were skeptical of the evidence. They thought evaluators held unrealistic expectations of D.A.R.E. and at times were advocating for their own programs. Districts valued D.A.R.E. because it improved relationships between schools and police, a factor that evaluators did not study.
  • The evidence behind programs featured on prominent lists of promising practices often was spotty. These lists give a misleading aura of certainty as to the effectiveness of programs included in them.

This project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Substance Abuse Policy Research Program. The program funds research that can help reduce the harm caused by the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs in the United States.