Why Debate

At the Podium: The Promise of Urban Debate

Executive Summary

While debate clearly helps students improve their public speaking skills, research also indicates that students who participate in urban debate leagues are significantly less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to graduate on time, and more likely to be college ready. In fact, urban debaters are more than three times more likely to graduate from high school than their non-debating counterparts. On all sections of the ACT, urban debaters outscore their non-debating counterparts, with the most notable gains seen in the English and reading sections of the ACT. Debate also improves academic achievement, irrespective of the GPA of the student prior to joining the program. In other words, it is not simply that urban debate leagues attract only high achieving students. Rather, one of the benefits of participating in a debate league is demonstrably higher academic performance over time. Urban debate participants complete high school with an average cumulative GPA of 3.23, above the 3.0 GPA benchmark considered by academicians to be predictive of college readiness.[1] In contrast, the average GPA of students who do not debate is 2.83, which is below the college readiness standard.

The promise of urban debate also resides in its ability to generate and reinforce many of the 21st Century skills that employers and institutions of higher education emphasize. Debate cultivates key proficiencies such as effective written and oral communication, critical thinking, working in a collaborative environment, and civic awareness and participation.[2] The competitive nature of debate requires students to hone rhetorical skills in a fast paced environment, enriching their ability to problem solve and engage in autonomous learning.[3] Because debate crosses curricular boundaries, it similarly compels students to investigate the multitude of connections between the social, political, and environmental dimensions of society.[4] The intensive investigation and research urban debaters conduct places them at a distinct advantage in higher education environments and the workforce. Most remarkably, regardless of students’ reasons for joining urban debate leagues, the academic and social advantages experienced by students continue long after they leave the podium to join the ranks of other former debaters as leaders in industry, education, law, medicine, and other disciplines. Click the following link to read the full Dallas Urban Debate Report.

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[1] Mezuk, B., Bondarenko, I., Smith, S., & Tucker, E. (2011). Impact of participating in a policy debate program on academic achievement: Evidence from the Chicago Urban Debate League. Educational Research and Reviews, 6(9), 622-635.

[2] Duncan, A. (2012). The Power of Debate—Building the Five “C’s” for the 21st Century. US Department of Education. Available at: http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/power-debate%E2%80%94building-five-cs-21st-century

[3] Anderson, S., & Mezuk, B. (2012). Participating in a policy debate program and academic achievement among at-risk adolescents in an urban public school district: 1997–2007. Journal of Adolescence35(5), 1225-1235.

[4] Bellon, J. (2000). A research-based justification for debate across the curriculum. Argumentation and Advocacy, 36(3), 161-176.