Debate Rationale and Program Description
The benefits of participating in competitive debate are well documented. According to Yale University Professor Minh A. Luong (2000): “There is no better activity that will develop essential academic, professional, and life skills than dedicated involvement in speech and debate.” Debate has also been shown to have particular advantages in closing the achievement gap for students in urban school districts. A study on the Chicago Urban Debate League, spanning from 1997-2006 published in 2009 by theJournal of Negro Education reports that debate participants are 70% more likely to graduate, three times less likely to drop out, and more likely to score at or above the ACT benchmarks for college readiness in English and reading compared to those who did not debate (Mezuk, 2009, p. 290). The Journal’s report concluded by saying that participation in competitive debate for underserved youth, and in particular, African American young men, may be an effective means to improve secondary literacy and thus overall academic performance outcomes (Mezuk, 2009, p. 291). However, despite the documented advantages of competitive debate, low income and minority students are underrepresented in the activity, especially at the highest levels of forensics. Therefore in the fall of 2013, MSQI partnered with the New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL), to launch a debate initiative aimed at supporting MSQI schools in creating competitive debate teams and providing opportunities to MSQI students to compete in regular Saturday debate tournaments.
In partnership with the NYCUDL, MSQI hosts a series of 4 debate tournaments each year. We draw our resolutions for all debate tournaments directly from Word Generation, an academic language acquisition curriculum used widely across MSQI schools. We work with the NYCUDL to provide on-site, direct, support to MSQI debate teams. We also maintain partnerships with the Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science debate teams to provide debate mentoring to our students. 18 schools and over 250 students currently participate in MSQI debate, and each school year, these numbers increase.
Measurable Impact on Reading
We have conducted a study on the reading comprehension growth of MSQI debaters as measured by the Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) assessment. Initial findings show that MSQI debaters’ DRP scores increased at a greater rate than students in two control groups. Students in both control groups had similar demographic profiles including race, gender, free/reduced lunch, and baseline DRP scores. We also conducted qualitative research on MSQI debaters through interviewing students, teachers and school leaders to investigate why students join debate and how debate influences student achievement. A complete a paper on our findings will be release in Spring 2015.