Our Mission

The mission of Urban Debate is simple, teach urban kids to think, communicate, collaborate, and love learning. The Washington Urban Debate League uses debate as a transformative educational opportunity to re-engage students and teach them portable skills such as critical thinking, research, public speaking, and advocacy that they will use in their future educational and career pursuits, and to contribute to their communities. Urban Debate programming removes barriers to participation and make debate accessible to students attending publicly funded educational institutions, especially Title 1 schools, where such opportunities have become scarce. 

Karim Sewell (Banneker High School) was our first High School Debater of the Year in 2015 

Debate has a long and exciting history in the Washington area, the center of our nation's democracy. ​Sadly, opportunities for debate were only consistently found in elite, private institutions. The Washington Urban Debate League is the only organization providing free, high quality debate opportunities for public school students at the middle and high school level. We especially encourage the participation of students of color and those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds to participate and want our league to reflect the rich diversity of the metro area. 

We are a member of the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) and numerous charter school networks, and tailor our program to fit each school's unique culture and schedule. 

Theory of Change


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 (NAUDL) conducts ongoing peer-reviewed studies to examine the impact of urban debate programming, and provides hard data on what works and what doesn’t.


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.

Urban Debate makes this transformative educational activity accessible to everyone. Our goal is to build a policy debate team (and spread the associated benefits) in every single public middle and high school in the metro area. Every student who wants to should have the opportunity to find their voice through a high quality debate program. As we grow, we hope to keep even our best competitors challenged with access to regional and national competitions, but our focus will remain on providing high quality local debate experiences for all students, even those brand new to the activity.  

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