Peer reviewed research shows that policy debate is one of the best things a student in middle and high school can do with their time.
Students enjoy the competition and intellectual community, but its impact stretches far beyond having fun and making friends. Debate teaches students useful knowledge about the world around them and develops portable skills like research, critical thinking, and communication that are in demand for 21st century careers. The skills and persistence developed through debate directly impacts their academic life and their success in college.
Urban Debate gets results across all major metrics of student achievement, and students continue to improve their outcomes every semester that they participate. The research about Urban Debate is comprehensive, and compensates for selection bias, comparing urban debaters to comparable non-debaters instead of the the general student population.
In today's political and media landscape, debate is even more important. Debaters support their arguments with facts instead of Fake News, and are the first to speak up for their communities. The best advocates for debate are the students themselves.
Most of the students leading the gun control push from Parkland are members of their school's debate team.
Update: Stay tuned for a large new study from the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues updating previous research and adding a focus on Social-Emotional Learning outcomes
Click any of the panels below to learn more about the benefits of debate.
In Their Own Words:
"Before I came here, I had zero confidence....now that I have joined debate I can confidently say what I believe in....before I came here, I had it, I just hadn't tapped into it. Debate helped me do that"---Varsity Debater, Banneker High School
"One of the things that I've had problems with before was ADHD and anxiety, which really paused the way I would learn before. But currently, now that I've joined debate, it has helped me construct this image in my mind of what I'm supposed to do and say"---Varsity Debater, Capital City PCS
"Debate improves how I speak and opens up a new life for me....I have learned to never give up and to think quickly on my feet"---Novice Debater, Kettering Middle School:
"Debate has taught me to project and enunciate words better...and think on my feet and how to appear confident even when I'm not."---Novice Debater: EL Haynes PCS
"Debate gives me pride, validation, and a sense of self-worth and accomplishment."---Junior Varsity Debater: Alice Deal Middle School
"As of last year, I wanted to quit Debate. Now I see the true purpose of Debate...Thank you for showing me this beautiful art, I really do appreciate your kindness in a world were Debate is life. And because of debate, I've done so much reading!!! And thanks to that, I have a 1520 on my PSAT." -- Junior Varsity Debater: Hardy Middle School
GradesUrban Debaters improve their GPAs every semester they participate. The average Urban Debater's GPA is above the national college readiness benchmark (3.23 GPA), while their non-debater peers are not (2.83).
Anderson and Mezuk, (2015)
Test ScoresWhile participation in extracurricular activities generally correlates negatively to standardized test scores, Urban Debaters score higher on college readiness exams and standardized test scores than their non-debater peers in every single subject. On the ACT, for example, Urban Debaters score:
Reading: 15% higher
English: 15% higher
Math: 10% higher
Science: 27% higher
Anderson and Mezuk (2015), Kalesnikava, Ekey, Ko, Shackelford, and Mezuk (2019)
LiteracyUrban Debaters score 14% higher on literacy exams than their non-debater peers.
Minneapolis Public Schools Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability Department 2015-2016 Report
Attendance and DisciplineFor every debate round a student participates in, they attend one more day of school. and are less likely to be involved in disciplinary incidents than their non-debater peers.
Anderson and Mezuk, (2015), Minneapolis Public Schools Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability Department 2015-2016 Report
Graduation RatesUrban Debaters are more likely to graduate on time than their non-debater peers.
90% of Urban Debaters graduate on-time, including 75% of "at risk" students.
100% of WUDL debaters graduate on time
Anderson and Mezuk (2015), Mezuk, Ekey, Shackelford, Ko, and Kalesnikava (2019)
College EnrollmentUrban Debaters are more likely to attend college and more likely to attend highly selective institutions (HSI) than their peers.
Urban Debaters: 68%
All Urban Schools: 63%
Majority/Minority Schools: 58%
Low Income Schools: 56%
Urban Debaters are 10% more likely to attend HSI than their peers.
Acceptance Rate Impacts
Debate Captains: +60%
Regional Winners: +22% - 30%
School Newspaper: +3%
Sports Captain: +5%
Class President: +5%
Ekey et al 2019, Luong 2000
Social Emotional Impacts
CivicsDebaters are 3 times more likely to vote in elections and 2 times more likely to participate in social and political campaigns
Rogers, J.E. (2005), Anderson and Mezuk, (2015), Mirra, Honoroff, Elgendy, and Pietrzak (2016)
Resilience and MotivationDebate strengthens students ability to persevere, focus, and struggle in the face of disappointment and defeat.
Fine (1999), Shackelford, Mezuk, Ekey, Ko, and Kalesnikava (2019)
Media Literacy87.5% of Urban Debaters analyze information better than their peers, and debaters are less likely than non-debaters to distort the truth or ignore conflicting evidence
Minneapolis Public Schools Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability Department 2015-2016 Report, Rogers, J.E. (2005)
Critical ThinkingParticipating in debate increases critical thinking skills by an average of 44%. Students who competed in debate performed better than students who took public speaking class on tests in skills of inference, recognition of assumptions, deduction, interpretation, and evaluation of arguments.
Allen, Berkowitz, Hunt, and Louden (1999)
Teamwork and Interpersonal SkillsDebate experience helps students interact with peers and authority figures, including across intercultural boundaries
Wade (1998), Freeley and Steinberg (2009), and O'Donnell (2009)
Communication SkillsDebate reduces verbal aggression, increases assertiveness, and improves the communication skills (Analysis, Delivery, and Organization)
Corson (1987), Colbert (1993),
Self EsteemUrban Debaters, especially women, show 39% greater self esteem than non-debater peers.
Minneapolis Public Schools Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability Department 2015-2016 Report, Winkler, C., Fortner, K., & Baugh-Harris, S. (2013), Billman (2008)
Stress and Time ManagementDebate improves time management, study habits, and organization. Surveys show that "improvement in handling stress" is one of the top 5 benefits of participating in debate.
Littlefield, R. S. (2001), Winkler, Fortner, and Baugh-Harris (2013)