Debate gives students the skills they need to succeed. Debaters read and synthesize sophisticated materials on complex public policy issues. In a debate tournament, students must link evidence from research to every one of their arguments. These skills—high-level reading, critical thinking, and evidence-based argumentation—are closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards and are recognized as critical to students’ college and career success.
Competitive academic debate improves student academic performance. Recent independent peer-reviewed and published studies demonstrate that participation in competitive debate leads to higher GPAs, higher graduation rates, and better college-readiness (based on ACT scores).
Debate is an engaging, student-centered activity. Rather than imparting knowledge through lectures, coaches engage students in learning games and debate exercises. Coaches direct students in research activities, while students collaborate to build their knowledge of debate subtopics. This high-level engagement motivates students in the CDL to spend an average of 145 out-of-class hours on debate during the school year. Our highly engaged high school students spend an average of 400 hours per year on debate. Given the time commitment and academic rigor of debate training, it should be no surprise that debate is uniquely effective in improving student outcomes.
Debate benefits students across the academic spectrum—not just those already on the path to success. Debaters come from all types of Chicago schools, including high-poverty and under-resourced schools. And debate attracts, and is open to, at-risk students and students starting with academic deficits, as well as students with moderate or strong academic records. Research shows that student GPA increases every semester a student continues to debate, even if a student starts out with a GPA below 2.0.
Debate promotes college success. The research proves that debate is a powerful strategy to prepare Chicago students for college. Our alumni confirm that debate prepared them to succeed in college. Moreover, they tell us that debate introduced them to the possibility of college success, inspired them to go to college, and helped them get the scholarships they needed to access college.
Debate enhances students civic understanding and engagement. Debate engages students in a deliberative, structured process of learning, critical thinking, and dialogue on important and complex public policy issues. Our students tell us that debate empowers them to voice their ideas and inspires them to learn more about the world. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “Competitive debate is nurturing a new generation of engaged, committed citizens.”