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Urban Debate UMBrooks
Debaters at the UMBrooks tournament in 2018. | Photo credit: Armand Langston Hayes Photography

Academic competitive debate is transformative. Why?

Students become the champion of their own story by taking the skills they learn from the activity and developing their full potential within a caring, intellectually curious, and competitive community.

Key Areas of Success:

  • Outcomes: Extensively researched & evaluated – debate moves the needle on test scores, GPAs, grad rates, advanced classes and more
  • Student Agency: Students thrive as they become policy makers advocating solutions to the world’s biggest problems. They take their greater self-confidence and advocacy skills into their own communities.
  • Skill-Building: Listening, note taking, team-work, research, and thinking critically are all important skills for education, and for life!
  • Power of Losing: Innovators and entrepreneurs must get comfortable with risk taking and failure. Every debater loses, receives feedback, and jumps right in the next round of competition.
  • Content Knowledge: Debaters go in-depth on the inner-workings of government, economics, science policy, law, philosophy and social movements

Local research confirms national findings:

The MNUDL stands apart from other programs because of our data agreements with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS).

Their research departments have found:

  • 3 years of consistent findings that show debaters vs. non-debaters have 12-14% annual increase in MCA reading scores, after controlling for race, income, and previous academic success
  • 58% of students of color who have done debate took either one or multiple advanced courses (AP or IB) compared to 39% of MPS peers
  • In 2019, we piloted Social & Emotional Learning-based curriculum to be taught across all debate programs. MPS assessment shows that debate increases self-esteem in students by 39%.
  • One of the most consistent findings of REA reports is the increase in critical thinking skills of debaters vs. non-debaters. Through debate, students learn to see issues from multiple perspectives and a global view. (REA ‘15 pg. 9)

National debate outcomes include:

  • Debaters are 40% more likely to graduate, and this increases to 70% for African American boys (JNE, 2009). This study also found that after two years in debate Latino students were able to close the GPA gap with white students, and that the average ACT score for participants moved from 16 to 22.
  • A 10 year longitudinal study of Baltimore urban debaters found that middle school debaters gain an average 6.35 point increase in Grade 8 standardized test reading scores. Debate participation was also associated with an increase in the probability of attending selective high schools when compared to non-debater peers (Shackleford, 2019).
  • Learn more about national urban debate outcomes at the NAUDL website.

Benefits to School Districts

School districts with debate programs benefit through improved test scores in the critical areas of literacy and communication. Inside the classroom, debaters create critical dialogue on assigned topics and have the necessary research skills to truly benefit their peers through classroom participation.

Urban debate is also highly efficient and cost-effective when compared to other out-of-school-time programming.  A full academic season nationally costs under $750 per student served, compared with an industry average of nearly $1,500.

Bring Urban Debate to Your School!

Contact Amy Cram Helwich at to learn more about how to bring these outcomes and more to your school through debate.