New research confirms the power of debate to change lives

A new study on the Chicago Debate League in the Journal of Adolescence investigates the relationship between participating in debate and college readiness for students at various levels of risk for educational failure. The research demonstrated that debate is an effective educational program for students at all levels of risk, not only those who were already on the path to educational success.

Using several indicators, researchers analyzed students into five groups based on their risk of not completing high school. Debaters overall are 3.1 times more likely to graduate from high school, no matter which risk group. Importantly, the impact of debate was greatest for those in the highest risk group. For high-risk students, 72% of debaters graduated, versus only 43% of non-debaters in that risk group.

Debate also has a significant impact on ACT scores across all risk levels:

“Students who participated in debate had significantly higher scores on all sections of the ACT after adjusting for demographic and risk variables. …It is noteworthy that debaters in every risk index group were more likely to reach the college-readiness benchmark on the English, Reading, and Science sections of the ACT.” (p. 9, emphasis added.)

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