Value of Debate


Related articles by me

Expanding Controversy Beyond the Classroom: Supporting Competitive Policy Debate (with C. Champ)

The Value of Speech & Debate in the Middle School Years (with A. Rao)

Debate  Participation as the Ultimate SAT Prep

Training for Social Change: Combining Debate in the Neighborhood with Competitive Debate.

Empowering Achievement: Using Academic Debate to Provide Experience in Western Academic Methods (conference paper)

Politics belong in the high school debate club

Journals/Empirical Research

Participating in a policy debate program and academic achievement among at-risk adolescents in an urban public school district: 1997-2007 Journal of Adolescence (2012), Susannah Anderson and Briana Mezuk

In this review of data from the Chicago Debate League, 1997-2007, Susannah Anderson and Briana Mezuk conclude that participation in debate leads to higher graduation rates and achievement of ACT college readiness benchmarks, even for those students most at-risk of not completing high school.

Key findings:

  • Among the highest risk students, 72% of debaters graduated as compared with 43% of non-debaters.
  • The level of participation in debate (number of rounds debated) is a strong predictor of high school completion. Students who debate more, are more likely to graduate.
  • All students who debated, including those at-risk, scored higher on the ACT and were more likely to achieve college readiness benchmarks in English, Reading and Science.

Impact of participating in a policy debate program on academic achievement: Evidence from the Chicago Urban Debate League, Educational Research and Reviews, September 2011 (PDF)

This study evaluates the relationship between participating in a policy debate program and academic achievement in the Chicago Public School (CPS) district from 1997 to 2006. Key findings showed that debaters were more likely to graduate, more likely to meet ACT college-readiness benchmarks, and had greater gains in cumulative grade point average (GPA) over the course of high school relative to comparable peers. This is the largest evaluation study of a debate program on achievement, and these findings suggest that debate programs may offer a means to extend learning time and promote engagement with scholastic materials in a manner that translates into academic performance.

Urban debate and high school educational outcomes for African American males: The case of the Chicago Debate League. By Briana Mezuk, PhD.

Abstract: This study examines whether participating in competitive policy debate influences high school completion, academic achievement, and college-readiness for African American male students. The analysis examines data from the Chicago Debate League over a 10-year period from 1997 to 2006. Debate participants were 70% more likely to graduate and three-times less likely to drop out as those who did not participate, even after accounting for 8th grade test scores and GPA. Debater participants were more likely to score at or above the ACT benchmarks for college-readiness in English and Reading, but not in Science or Mathematics, than those who did not participate. While peripheral participation in debate had little impact on academic outcomes, more intense involvement significantly influenced scholastic achievement for young African American students in this urban setting.

You can order a full print copy of the Journal of Negro Education Special Issue for the Summer 2009, Academic Success for School-age Black Males today. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Briana Mezuk or Dr. Eric Tucker.

Huston Urban Debate League Study

The Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL) was established in 2008 by a group of former high school and college debaters. After being granted affiliate status with the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL), on March 13, 2008, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board of Education unanimously voted to serve as a co-sponsor of a citywide debate league. The HUDL is a 503(c)(3) charitable organization that, similar to other UDLs, enters into public-private partnerships to enhance the investment of HISD in debate activities by providing financial support, mentoring, communication, and facilities that will contribute to making policy debate a mainstay in all HISD schools.

Overall, the current evaluation resulted in three main findings: (a) higher performing students may be more likely to participate in competitive policy debate; (b) after accounting for this potential selection bias, HUDL participants were more likely to have higher attendance rates, higher core course grades, and fewer disciplinary incidents than those who did not participate in debate; (c) intensity of participation in debate activities has an influence on these associations, such that students who participated in more rounds of debate had higher attendance rates, higher core course grades, and fewer disciplinary actions than those students with only marginal round participation.

Bellon, J. (2000). A research-based justification for debate across the curriculum. Argumentation and Advocacy

Overview of the Ten Year Retrospect Assessment of Urban Debate and High School Educational Outcomes: Evidence from the Chicago Debate League

An Investigation of the relationship between participation in debate and standardized test scores.



Speech by US Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Stefan Bauschard’s Opening Remarks at 2017 NSDA Nationals 


Navigating Opportunity: Policy Debate in the 21st Century. 


America’s reckoning on race comes to high school speech and debate (2020)


Attorney J. Blake Johnson has forged a formidable career (2019)

Honestly, the real passion was argument.  I was a dedicated high school and college debater.  That’s what I did in the Bay Area as well — I directed a nonprofit that builds debate teams in inner-city high schools.

Reflections on the benefits of speech & debate (2017)

The most important thing I learned in debate (2009)

High school training helped in Supreme Court wins

Top Kentucky grads discuss the benefits of debate

Testimonials — College Admissions

Debate in College Admissions and Personal Development (2013)

How debate helped me in college admissions (2017)


Debate helps students develop important skills

How debate skills help a company grow

Making the case for funding high school and middle school forensics programs

High Schools need to make debate class a graduation requirement

Passion fuels change at Williamsburg Renewal School

20 Reasons Why Debate Club Kids Were Better Prepared for Adulthood

The Value of Speech and Debate in the Middle School Years

Benefits of Debate

Making the Case for Teaching Students to Debate

Expanding Controversy Beyond the Classroom: Supporting Competitive Policy Debate

Debate enhances critical thinking, creativity

Why Michigan State practices public speaking

Middle School

San Diego Middle School Debate League builds brain muscles and life skills (2019)

The Value of Speech & Debate in the Middle School Years (with A. Rao)

Debate Organization Releases

Benefits of Debate  National Association of Urban Debate Leagues

The Benefits of Debate   Home School Association (2007)


As debate population grows, so does its diversity

High schools need to make debate class a graduation requirement

Debate Club teaching students the power of their own voice

Why Debate Club Kids Were Better Prepared for Adulthood

In Debate, Hillary will display skills honed over a lifetime

Emerging Voices: The Case for Debate

New Principal Charges Ahead

Palo Alto debate non-profit empowers students to have a voice

Debate pays dividends at IN-Tech

A society with poor thinking skills: The case for “argument” in education

Debate changed my life

Bring your zombie child to life

RCHS, Columbia grad makes her way

Local student overcomes ADD to become debate team champion

Competitive debate could be the education vaccine

Urban teens publicly debate financial topics that will shape their futures and ours

Debating in high school: More than witty retorts

High school students stand and deliver

Exchange students sharpen English skills through debate

Students benefit from skills learned in debate

There’s no Debating This: Speech is Important

Wiley College sees enrollment soar with revived debate team

In school choice debate, students speak best

New studies shows benefits of debate

The Common Core After School

How to find the Millennials who will lead your company?

High school tips the benefits of competitive debate

Lawyers help bring urban debate leagues to Dallas ISD

Young debaters are unafraid of complex issues

Quite school? That’s not an option for this Dallas High Schooler

Debate program fires up urban youth

News — Urban Debate

Urban Debate League students tackle criminal justice reform (2020)

News — Benefits in Business

There is a secret behind teams top ideas

Middle School

Competitive debate as a tool to improve adolescent reading 

The Power of Middle School Debate

The Value of Speech & Debate in the Middle School Years

Elementary School

Too young to debate?

Conference Papers

Debate and Post-Secondary Educators


MSQI Stories – Debate from MSQI on Vimeo.

Milwaukee Debate League 2007-2008 from Debate Video on Vimeo.

Why debate?

Using debate to develop speaking and critical thinking skills


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