Wisconsin’s high school graduation rate of 88.4% in 2015 ranked high above the national average of 82.3%. Urban Milwaukee, however, presents a far different picture with a high school graduation rate of 58.2% in 2015. Thus, Wisconsin has ranked as one of the widest graduation rate gaps and performance gaps between white students and students of color in the country. Despite many attempts, the achievement gap persists.
National attention on education and career development has created an obligation to help all students develop critical thinking abilities, problem solving skills, and strong communications skills. For low-income and minority students in Milwaukee, traditional education approaches have left them behind while the rest of the city and the state excel. Many schools have turned to competitive policy debate to decrease this achievement gap affecting low income and minority students.
Since 1987, urban debate leagues have worked nationally with hundreds of teachers and tens of thousands of students to make debate accessible for all and have seen success in two significant areas:
Reaching populations in need. Among approximately 7,300 current urban debaters, over 85% are students of color and over 75% are low-income students.
Growing large programs. Nationally, urban debate teams involve as many as 150 students at each school and hundreds more through classroom outreach.
Learning from our colleagues in Urban Debate Leagues across the country, the Milwaukee Debate League has an incredible opportunity to foster education and valuable skills through debate for the at-risk youth in Milwaukee Public Schools.
Through debate, we can motivate students to develop important skills, graduate, and ultimately find career and life success.
I joined debate in 7th grade and my science teacher told me to read all these papers. I didn’t read them, to be honest. A week later, that teacher sat me down and explained to me what the papers said and why I should join debate. I’ve loved it ever since.LaCandra McCray
Why Debate Matters to Students
Debate programs provide significant benefits to students. Research studies have provided insight into the most important benefits.
Urban Debate Doubles Out of School Learning Time
A typical debater engages in an additional 597 academic instruction hours each year or 85 extra school days, which is over triple the length of summer work. But it is not simply quantity – it is the quality of that intellectual engagement. Urban debaters substantially improve critical reasoning skills. Our debaters substantially improve their literacy skills because a debater researches, analyzes, criticizes, writes, reads, thinks, listens, speaks, and argues on subjects not covered in the typical high school curriculum – even the most elite high schools in the nation – philosophy, critical theory, rhetoric, logic, law, ethnic studies, international studies, feminism, and many other college level disciplines. Our students substantially increase their knowledge about current events, civic responsibilities, and the world around them.
Debate Improves High School Graduation Rates
African American and Hispanic students in urban schools have little more than a 50% chance of graduating from high school. Urban debate keeps students in school. Like any sport, debate is exciting. It engages students, even those who are at the highest risk of dropping out of school. The results are dramatic. An independent, peer-reviewed ten-year study of the Chicago Urban Debate League found that 90% of the debaters graduated from high school, compared to only 75% of similar students who did not debate. Among the highest risk students, 72% of debaters graduated, as compared with 43% of non-debaters. The research has clearly shown competitive policy debate closes the achievement gap for minority students.
Debate Prepares Students for College
Eighty-five percent of urban debaters attend college. Urban debaters are 89% more likely than non-debaters to attend a four-year college or university and 80% more likely to graduate. They enter college prepared to succeed. Research studies show that debaters are significantly more likely to test as college-ready on standardized tests in Reading, English, Math, and Science. Debaters had an average cumulative high school GPA of 3.23, compared to 2.83 for similar students who did not debate, a difference of one-half letter grade. A GPA of 3.0 is a key indicator of college readiness.
For further information, we encourage you to review these informative studies.
The Milwaukee Urban Debate League is partnered with the 22 Urban Debate Leagues across the country. Sister programs like the Chicago Debate League currently serve over 500 students from more than 14 schools in the Chicago area. In Milwaukee, we have served hundreds of students from several area schools but thousands continue to be without the benefit of competitive policy debate.
Why Corporate and Foundation Sponsors Matter
Corporate and Foundation sponsors provide necessary funding and volunteers to maintain essential programming. That investment in resources and time provides significant impact.
MDL Makes Every Dollar Count
Debaters spend an average of 350 hours per year learning through debate practice, research, and competition. It costs roughly $2.85 an hour to have this opportunity accessible for a single student. By working with the resources of the Milwaukee Public School system, community sponsors and partners, and countless volunteer hours of support, we stretch the impact of every dollar to help student success.