Amplifying Voices and Developing Skills to Succeed
The Power of Debate
While once a more prevalent offering, by the turn of the millennium — due to budget constraints and other pressing priorities, debate programs often found themselves on the chopping block in public city schools. As such, competitive debate became an almost exclusive activity of private, preparatory and suburban public schools, with its benefits serving only the most privileged students in society.
For nearly two decades, NAUDL has worked to ensure tens of thousands of students in America’s most underserved districts have access to the pivotal skills, and the inclusive, lifelong community, debate develops. We understand that results matter and we have positioned ourselves at the forefront of urban debate research. Over the last several years, we have worked with leading academic researchers to show the important connection of urban debate participation to significant outcomes in critical skills and thinking, communication and collaboration, as well as academic success and college readiness.
Theory of Change
Today, NAUDL works with 22 partner leagues in 22 cities (the Urban Debate Network) to establish, partner and support debate programs in city school districts across the country. Together, our league partners have a combined reach of 7,000+ students annually (10,000 pre-pandemic), bringing the “power of debate” to a new generation of youth.
Research shows that, as compared to direct peers:
- For each semester that a student debates, their individual grades improve
- Urban debaters are more likely to test as college-ready in English, Reading, Math, and Science
- Urban debaters have both a higher high school graduation rate
- Urban debaters have a higher rate of college enrollment
- Urban debaters are more likely to attend a four-year college
The Debate Impact
In 2021, researchers at the University of Michigan (Mezuk and Ko), in partnership with NAUDL and the Houston Urban Debate League, published results of a significant peer-reviewed study examining the relationship between debate participation and academic outcomes in the Houston Independent School District. The study represents the largest investigation of its kind to date and findings suggest that competitive debate is associated with better academic outcomes (GPA and SAT scores) and college-readiness for students.
Click button below to view full University of Michigan study. To view more NAUDL-commissioned research studies and other articles on the proven outcomes of debate, visit our Research Archives page.