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Who We Are

NAUDL Mission:

Advancing debate education in urban public schools to amplify youth voices and to develop confidence for future success.



NAUDL is a national leader in the debate movement, preparing the next generation to lead and succeed. Through debate, students learn critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills. They also discover their passion for learning and become empowered to succeed in the classroom. Our vision is that all youth graduate from high school as engaged civic leaders with expanded college and career opportunities.


Nationally, 40% of all high school students live in vulnerable, low-income communities. Research shows that concentrated poverty produces significant disparities with lower rates of high school graduation and college enrollment/graduation, as compared to peers in more affluent communities. In 2004, NAUDL was established as a grassroots organization seeking to address these gaps through access to debate interventions.

NAUDL is a backbone organization for 20 debate league partners in 20 cities, exclusively in metropolitan — and predominantly underserved — areas across the country. Known as the Urban Debate Network, NAUDL works in collaboration with these formal partners to establish and support debate programs, practices, and events to 10,000 middle and high school students (plus alums through programs like our Alumni Fellows summer internship).

The Urban Debate Network

All 20 partner leagues are independent 501(c)(3) organizations, with their own board and bylaws, working directly with school staff and coaches, they have a relationship with the local school board, and often a relationship with a university debate program that helps host tournaments. NAUDL also hosts brand-building events and celebrations, supports the establishment of new leagues, and helps in growing the capacity of current leagues — providing strategic direction and meeting leagues and teachers “where they are” to reach success.

NAUDL provides a framework for the establishment of new leagues, hosts national events and competitions, and cultivates the growth and engagement of an alumni network. NAUDL aims to improve educational and leadership opportunities across the network as we leverage the principles and behavioral outcomes of debate in new and evolving ways. To ensure its league partners can have the greatest collective impact, NAUDL provides model resources, programs, training, and curricula, all in line with professional and educational standards.


NAUDL Reach & Impact

Given the network’s footprint, students served are often in schools (and homes) with limited resources — populations that were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and their repercussions. Increased responsibilities at home, lack of conducive learning spaces, and unreliable internet access, to name a few, put students and their families at greater risk of falling behind – both economically and academically. As these students endured the challenges that plagued the education landscape over the last few years, NAUDL and its partners were determined to not just sustain, but elevate, debate in innovative ways, so that students still had the opportunity to thrive in this formative activity that is a chosen community and outlet for so many.

A Proven Model 

Independent, peer-reviewed research shows that students in the Urban Debate Network, as compared to direct peers, are more likely: to test as college-ready in English, Reading, Math, and Science; show GPA improvement for each semester; have a higher high school graduation and college enrollment rates; and are more likely to attend a four-year college. Additionally, students learn, and put into practice, the soft skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. No other activity provides the unique combination of academic performance, empowerment, civil discourse, and community that debate delivers.

NAUDL Reputation

NAUDL is proud of its reputation and credibility in both the debate and the higher civic community. NAUDL and students from our partner leagues were honored to be invited to the White House by President Obama in 2013 and we have been privileged to have former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as a guest speaker at our events and an advocate of our work. We also serve as honored voters for the annual National Policy Debate Topic Selection process, hosted by the National Federation of High School Associations, and have been selected by the Department of Education to nominate students for the esteemed Presidential Scholars Program.

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