It’s simple. More than any other activity, debate has the potential to transform the educational experience for students in urban high schools. Debate is one of the most rigorous academic activities a student can participate in. It combines literary analysis, research, critical thinking, public speaking, organization, and advocacy. Through fun and friendly competition, debate creates an incentive for students to spend hundreds of hours developing the key skills that study after study shows our students are struggling to develop.
Urban youth with great talent, creativity, and potential often go unchallenged and unrecognized in Los Angeles public schools. When the classroom doesn’t engage them, students respond by dropping out, behaving disruptively, or giving up on themselves. Consequently, too many grow up without the skills they need to succeed in college and compete in today’s economy.
Competitive academic debate offers a powerful means of engaging students in their own education and reversing these negative trends. Debaters come from across the academic spectrum, including those who do not attend school regularly or are not thriving in the traditional classroom.
Debate appeals to these students as a fun, competitive, and student-centered way to encounter academic subjects. For many, debate tournaments are a rare opportunity to connect intellectually with their peers and to have their ideas about important issues considered seriously by adults.
A Proven Record: Urban Debate Leagues (UDLs) have a proven record of success. UDLs drastically improve students’ academic achievement, help develop leadership skills, prepare students to succeed in college, and provide a diversity pipeline of young, intelligent, motivated youth to enter key sectors of the business world.
Urban Debate Leagues take pride in targeting all students in urban high schools, not just the high achieving students. Students with severe discipline problems, students significantly below grade level, special education students, GATE students, AP students, Honors students….they all have a voice and all want to be heard. This broad student base makes the successes of UDLs that much more amazing. Here’s a quick look at some of the facts about UDLs:
Improving Academic Performance: Despite recent gains in academic achievement, low-income and minority students continue to under-perform their peers. Urban Debate Leagues (UDLs) have a proven record of decreasing that gap. While debate can help high-achieving students to access and succeed in college, it has an even greater impact on struggling students. Debate is a powerful literacy tool for students whose reading difficulties bring down their grades and sap their motivation to succeed. A University of Missouri study found that after one year in a UDL, debaters attended school more frequently, improved their GPAs by 10%, decreased risky behaviors, and achieved a 25% increase in literacy scores relative to a non-debating control group.
Preparing Students to Succeed in College: While many students have parents, family members, and friends who did not, and will not, go to college, UDLs change what is possible for these students. Studies show that:
•UDL’s have a graduation rate of nearly 100% in schools that often have dropout rates of 30 – 40%
•More than 75% of UDL students go on to a four-year University
•These students have an 80% matriculation rate
In addition, debate focuses on those skills that are crucial for college success. The unique focus on these skills allows debaters to not just attend four-year universities, but to thrive in this atmosphere. Debate teaches students to:
• Analyze complex texts from multiple sources
• Identify claims and warrants of the authors
• Evaluate the validity of the claims presented in the evidence
• Develop their own ideas based on the research
• Take a position based on their evaluation of the evidence
• Argue the efficacy of competing policy options
Eliminating Non-Academic Barriers to Success: Debate equips students to resolve conflict appropriately and offers an individualized, empowering, and student-centered learning model that engages students who may not be thriving in a traditional classroom. It fosters relationships between students and their teachers and among students who have the common goal of succeeding academically. Many debaters view their team as their family and receive some of the emotional support they are not getting elsewhere. Instead of turning to gangs for a developed sense of identity, students turn to their debate families and their school. Simply put, debate gives our students many reasons to keep coming to school.
Developing Leaders: According to a survey by the National Forensics League, 64% of U.S. Congress members competed in debate or speech in high school. Debaters are disproportionately represented in leadership ranks in law, business, and the academy. With high expectations, expanded horizons, and advanced skills, urban debaters are equipped to improve their schools, strengthen their communities, and ultimately make a contribution to the nation’s leadership.
Cultivating Citizens: Debate engages students in politics and community issues. Debaters develop powerful, accomplished voices and grow accustomed to professionals treating their public policy ideas seriously. According to the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, urban debaters “learn about political issues in the here-and-now; they investigate and prepare information about topics that are important to the world they live in today. Preparing to debate requires collecting information from various sources, analyzing and organizing the information, and articulating a point of view.”