Urban youth with great potential often go unchallenged and unrecognized in public schools. When they cease to feel engaged in the classroom, students may respond by dropping out, giving up, or engaging in self-destructive behavior. Consequently, many of Rhode Island’s urban young people grow up without the skills they need to succeed in college and to compete in today’s economy. Competitive academic debate is a powerful way to engage students in their own education and reverse these negative trends.
Debate is an educational enrichment activity proven to have a positive impact on student outcomes in urban contexts:
- High School Graduation. Students who join the debate team are 42% more likely to graduate from high school than those who do not. The impact is even greater among African-American male participants, who are 70% more likely to graduate and three times less likely to drop out.
- College Readiness. Debaters greatly enhance their oral communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving abilities, and their research techniques—competencies fundamental to college success. In a peer-reviewed study of the Chicago Debate League, African American male debaters were 50% more likely to reach the ACT college-readiness benchmark for English, and 70% more likely to reach the ACT benchmark for reading than similar non-debaters.
- Developing Leaders. Students on the debate team often feel that they are asked to participate in their own education for the first time. Their debate coaches, who are also their academic teachers, listen to them. The judges—often college students, graduate students, or business professionals—spend nearly two hours listening to speeches the students have prepared and then spend additional time giving thoughtful feedback on their performance. It is no surprise that two thirds of the members of Congress were once debaters, and that debaters are similarly represented at the highest levels of academia, business, and the legal professions.
- Closing the Achievement Gap. While all subgroups of students benefit from debate, research shows that African-American males and Latino students benefit most. Urban debaters as a whole are 42% more likely to graduate from high school; African-American male debaters are 70% more likely. After two years in debate, the ACT scores of Latino students were almost identical to the average ACT score of the overall population, and the twelfth-grade GPA of Latino debaters was higher than that of debaters overall.