Urban Debate Theory of Change

Competitive debate has a long history in the United States. Many of our nation’s leading figures, from Presidents, Congressmen, and Supreme Court Justices to CEOs, and Entrepreneurs, Comics, Actors, and members of the media are former debaters. President Kennedy once said:

“I think debating in high school and college a most valuable training whether for politics, the law, business, or for service to the community….A good debater must not only study material in support of his own case, but he must also, of course, thoroughly analyze the expected arguments of his opponent…..the give and take of debating, the test of ideas, is essential to democracy.”


In President Kennedy’s day, competitive debate thrived across the nation, including in urban centers. Sadly, as education budgets have tightened and the plight of urban schools has grown, extracurricular budgets have been slashed and debate has faded from many urban schools. While still prevalent in suburban areas, the academic benefits of debate are no longer available for those who need them most.

It is the mission of Urban Debate to level the playing field, giving urban students the same academically rigorous debate programs available to their suburban peers. The Urban Debate network serves about 10,000 students across the country in 22 cities. 

Data Driven Model

The Urban Debate Model is based on the lessons learned from decades of experience, but also in hard numbers. The National Association of Urban Debate Leagues conducts an ongoing series of peer-reviewed studies to examine the impact of urban debate programming, giving us up to date information on how effective we are, and how to refine our approach to better serve our students.


These studies have found that participation in competitive policy debate is immensely beneficial across the board, from increased grades and attendance to graduation rates (from high school AND college), and test scores. Our programs are developed this research in mind and focus on improving student learning outcomes.


With the adoption of Common Core standards, debate effectively teaches newly emphasized research and communication skills. Urban Debate makes sure to stay true to its mission. Last year, 86% of urban debaters were students of color and 76% were from low-income families.




To learn more about the urban debate network, visit: www.urbandebate.org