Curriculum Report Roundup

Student Debates

By Sean Cavanagh — November 03, 2009 1 min read

African-American students who took part in one of the most time-honored school activities—debate leagues—had higher grade point averages, were more likely to graduate from high school, and were more college-ready in English and reading than those who did not take part, a study has found.

The study, published last month in the Journal of Negro Education, was based on a statistical analysis of the experiences of 2,500 students in the Chicago public schools who took part in at least one Chicago Debate League tournament out of a pool of 12,000 teenagers over a 10-year period. The study was completed by Briana Mezuk, an assistant professor in the school of medicine, department of epidemiology and community health, at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Not only was debate participation linked with higher achievement, but students also made stronger gains with more participation, the research shows. The study found that debaters shows gains in English and reading, but not in science and math, which suggested that debating helped build specific skills in reading comprehension, argumentation, use of evidence, and other areas, Ms. Mezuk said. While the students who enrolled in the debate activities brought stronger academic records, on average, than nondebaters, they were still relatively low-performing by state standards. Although the journal article focused on gains among black male students, improvements were seen among female students, too, the author said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 04, 2009 edition of Education Week as Student Debates

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