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Our Impact

Welcome to the world of debate – the most rigorous academic program since Ancient Greece.  The New York City Urban Debate League has received local and national honors as one of the nation’s most rigorous academic programs – 40 weekends of debate tournaments during the school year, debate institutes every day of the summer, debate practices every day after school, debate classes every day during school, and college visits every month – a student will double their academic learning time through debate.



“Anyone who bemoans the state of public education need only spend a weekend at a high school speech and debate tournament to have their faith restored.”

– Curt Stedron (School Teacher)

We change schools. 

“Those who think public education is a lost cause should look no further than M.S. 50 in Williamsburg. There, Principal Ben Honoroff has leveraged his school’s Renewal resources, including additional learning time, to create a championship debate team. The debate program has not only won city-wide tournaments, but it has sharpened students’ critical thinking skills and helped them perform better on State ELA and math exams.” (NYC School Chancellor Carmen Farina, New York Daily News, “Making Public Education Work,” February 1st, 2017.


We change lives. 

“So, why debate?… What I find so amazing and so powerful is: I know of no technology, no force in our field of education which cause young people at this age to strive, to fight, based on words and evidence, but in doing so change themselves. There really isn’t much else like it.” 

– David Coleman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the College Board and a former New York City high school debater


We close the achievement gap.

“The New York City Urban Debate League is a program that empowers underserved students while immersing them in public speaking, research techniques, civics, law and ethnic studies.  Along with countless debating trophies, the program boasts years of data showing that their alums have higher grade point averages, high school graduation rates, college acceptances and number of scholarships than their peers.”

– Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the First Lady of the United States, and the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, honoring us with the National Arts and Humanities Award for one of the top after school programs in the nation in the arts and humanities


High School Graduation and College Acceptance.  95-100% of our high school seniors graduate from high school and are accepted to college.

“Due to my involvement in debate the HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) staff took interest in me and accepted me to Hamilton College via their HEOP program which I received a full scholarship to Hamilton College. In the letter they said they were most impressed with my debate achievements and being captain on the debate team! Debate has given me so many skills and knowledge. We learn about things we do not learn in class and we compete against the best in the nation. I would not be valedictorian of my school if it wasn’t for debate! In college I hope to keep on working to help debaters in the Bronx.” – Erika Marte, 12th Grade, Debater at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, Gates Millennium Scholar


We close the civic achievement gap.

“[The] NYC Urban Debate League” provides “a vision of what “democracy in action” for underserved youth might look like. Such democracy skill-building experiences can empower youth to become engaged learners and participating citizens.”  – Institute of Out of School Time, “New York City Urban Debate League: Investigating Youth’s Experiences in a ‘Democracy in Action’ Afterschool Program,” by Dr. Georgia Hall, Senior Research Scientist of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time

“Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.” – President Obama,  

Debaters are more likely to vote, volunteer for a campaign, or run for office. This list includes over a dozen Presidents, the majority of Supreme Court Justices (including the first hispanic Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, first female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, first African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall), governors, mayors, civil rights leaders, social and community activists.  A survey by the National Speech and Debate Association shows that 64% of the Members of the United States Congress competed in debate or speech in school.

We substantially decrease high school drop out rates.

“For the students who are most at-risk of dropping out, the statistics are bleak. Only forty-three percent graduate on time. But seventy-two percent of the urban debaters in this same group graduate. Urban debate teaches these students that, with effort, they can succeed, and it ignites their passion for learning.”

Journal of Adolescence, October 2013

Each semester that a student debates, his/her grades improve.

While urban debaters enter high school with higher GPA’s on average than non-debaters, their grades improve steadily during high school, in contrast to non-debaters, whose grades remain flat. Urban debaters earn an average GPA of 2.92 at the end of their first semester in high school and gain .02 units in cumulative GPA for each semester that they debate. By the spring of 12th grade, they have an average GPA of 3.06. Non-debaters earn a lower GPA in their first semester of high school, an average of 2.23. They complete high school with an average GPA of 2.30, substantially unchanged.

Debaters are more likely to test as college ready. 

Urban debaters enter college prepared to succeed. Through debate they learn the critical thinking and communications skills that are essential for college success. Urban debaters are more likely to test as college ready in English (15% more likely), Reading (15% more likely), Science (27% more likely), and Math (10% more likely).

Urban Debate Doubles Out of School Time Learning

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 school. A debater participates in daily practices and workshops every week (160 hours/year), tournaments every weekend (360 hours/year), summer camps (77 hours/summer). But it is not simply quantity – its the quality of that intellectual engagement. 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 disciples. 

“Those 4 years in debate were the educational foundation of everything I did. And I don’t mean that in some simple form…I’m saying the finest education I got from any of the institutions I attended, the foundation of my mind that I got during those 4 years of competitive policy debate; that is, 90% of the intellectual capacity that I operate with today–Fordham [University] for college, Fordham for the Ph.D., Harvard for law school–all of that is the other 10%.”

– John Sexton, President of NYU, and former New York City High School Debate Coach of 10 years in Brooklyn

Urban Debaters substantially improve critical reasoning skills.

“Arguing, in fact, has been claimed by cognitive scientists to be not just central to human thinking and reasoning but its central objective … argument [is] the umbrella under which all reasoning lies; it is ‘the more general human process of which more specific forms of reasoning are a part.’”

– Diana Kuhn, Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, observed our summer debate institute programs for two weeks with a group of over 100 students in middle school and high school.

“Debate programs provide various academic benefits, according to researchers. Learning how to develop an argument is a real-world skill, for one. It helps students gain critical thinking skills, and experts say that understanding how to marshal evidence can help students succeed in their future careers, whether they become a sales person making a case for a new product or a lawyer defending a client in a court room.” – US News and World Report, May 24, 2017

Our debaters substantially improve their literacy skills.

The Department of Education evaluated our debate program during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years by analyzing middle school debaters reading comprehension growth as measured by the DRP (Degrees of Reading Power) standardized test assessment, and found that our debaters had DRP growth at almost twice the national average, and most excitingly, significantly greater than 2 control groups created with similar demographic profiles one in debaters’ own schools and one in schools without debate.  Additional research founded that students participating in Urban Debate gained a 3.34 point increase on their reading scores compared to their peers who did not participate in Urban Debate, corresponding to a 12% increase in academic growth.

Our debaters learn presentation literacy skills.

“According to TED curator Chris Anderson, public speaking matters more than ever. In his book TED Talks, Anderson writes: ‘As a leader–or as an advocate–public speaking is the key to unlocking empathy, stirring excitement, sharing knowledge and insights, and promoting a shared dream.’ Isn’t that what you’re trying to accomplish as an entrepreneur pitching an idea or a small-business owner pitching a potential customer? Your goal is to create empathy, a bond of trust between you and your listener. Your goal is to stir excitement, share knowledge, and promote a shared dream. Effective public speaking is the one skill that can help you achieve all of these results. Anderson calls the ability to captivate an audience “presentation literacy,” a superpower to pitch your ideas, sell products, and accomplish your dreams. The good news is that Anderson believes the skill is teachable.” –  Billionaire Warren Buffett Says This 1 Skill Will Boost Your Career Value by 50 Percent,

Our students substantially increase their knowledge in current events, civics and the world around themselves. 

“I was recruited to join a policy debate team. Not the most popular activity to do, I stayed on the team simply because I was afraid of what would become of me if I didn’t. With a pregnant best friend at 13 and gangs controlling many Bronx neighborhoods, I thought it was a matter of time until something would go wrong in my life. Through debate, I decided I wanted to go to college at fifteen, and once I wanted it, passion took over…. Debate proved to be the platform of my education. Not only did it build a confident woman in me, it put me in a setting that allowed me to meet remarkable people that have continued to shape my life for the better. I am indebted with the LGJ debate team…”

– Maribel Vaquez, writing in her successful Fulbright Scholarship application. Maribel is a graduate of the Bronx School of Law, Government and Justice. She was accepted to Franklin and Marshall College on a full scholarship from the Posse Foundation (all expenses paid).


Our students learn 21st century learning skills. 

“Competitive debate is one of the great equalizers of educational opportunity.  In a number of respects, competitive urban debate is almost uniquely suited to building what’s been called the ‘Four C’s’ of 21st century skills—critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. And to that list I might add a fifth ‘C’— for civic awareness and engagement.” – US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, honoring our debaters in Washington D.C.



Radiolab Podcast "Debatable"

by Matt Kielty. Reported by Abigail Keel Special thanks to Will Baker, Myra Milam, John Dellamore, Sam Mauer, Tiffany Dillard Knox, Mary Mudd, Darren "Chief" Elliot, Jodee Hobbs, Rashad Evans and Luke Hill. |

Our students learn critical literacy skills. 

The NYCUDL (New York City Urban Debate League) is part of a national network that teaches young people (86% students of color and 76% low-income students) to “think, communicate, collaborate, and love learning…. What I find so powerful about urban debate is the way it transforms a practice that can easily remain exclusive and exclusionary (because of its complex set of official rules and unofficial norms, as well as the financial costs of camps, travel, and materials) into an inclusive space in which students of color can experiment with forms of creative expression that push the boundaries of civic dialogue. While policy debate has a strict structure of timed speeches and speaking roles, urban debaters have innovated with how those minutes are used to address the resolution at hand. If you have not heard the recent Radiolab podcast exploring the ways that urban debaters are using hip hop and performative politics to upend traditional assumptions about who can participate in debate and how debate looks and sounds, drop everything and listen to it now. It offers an incisive analysis about how urban debate is not simply about offering students of color access to an activity that can improve their academic skills, but also about students of color transforming this foundational civic activity by introducing new forms of expression.I am now working with the New York City Department of Education’s Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI) to study the impacts of expanding debate from the high school level into the city’s middle schools. Students in MSQI schools experience debate in the classroom through the Word Generation literacy curriculum and now have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular debate tournaments, where they debate resolutions about issues ranging from military recruiters in schools to the value of rap music.While our study continues, we have already found that debate encourages students to analyze complex texts, take multiple perspectives on controversial issues, and use their voices to advocate for social justice. We see debate as an activity that has the potential to bridge classroom and community spaces to support the development of young people’s academic and critical literacies.”

“The Power of Debate as a Form of Civic Communication,” Digital Media and Learning,, Nicole Mirra, May 19th 2016



Our students learn current events knowledge

“What’s more, a growing body of evidence suggests that argumentation itself is a powerful way to gain knowledge. When students learn by arguing, they gain a richer understanding of a topic, and students in the urban debate programs typically debate important social and political topics, learning the nuances of gun control or school reform.” – US News and World Report, May 24, 2017




Our students are changing schools.

“Those who think public education is a lost cause should look no further than M.S. 50 in Williamsburg. There, Principal Ben Honoroff has leveraged his school’s Renewal resources, including additional learning time, to create a championship debate team. The debate program has not only won city-wide tournaments, but it has sharpened students’ critical thinking skills and helped them perform better on State ELA and math exams.” – NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, – 




We empower students.

“While literacy is about the creation of new knowledge, it is also about the creation of empowered students. Literacy does not exist separate from the complicated conversations about access and denial. The urban debate league movement emerged as a bridge across a historical rupture in debate participation by communities that were not white and affluent. The bridge is important because it is a bridge between a community with a historical focus on social justice and a community focused on competitive success.”
(Cridland-Hughes, 2010) Using Debate in the Classroom 



We teach every subject.

Increasingly, teachers have recognized that debate serves as a much-needed antidote to the school disengagement crisis plaguing our nation’s schools…debate improves student participation across a wide range of academic fields including history, communication, English, English as a Second Language, philosophy, science, geography, computational sciences, social work, pharmacology, nursing, rehabilitative counseling, health care, accounting, marketing, and business.” Winkler, Engendering Academic Success, Debate as a School Engagement Strategy, Using Debate in the Classroom.  


We teach questioning skills.

“Students must learn to question their assumptions, ask new questions, consider novel solutions, and evaluate their possibiliities evenhandedly…As educators, one tool we can use to promote these mental habits is the in-class debate in which we require students to defend a position with which they disagree.” (Budesheim & Lundquist, 1999, p. 109).

We teach career skills. Debate is the best skill in the workplace to improve performance and teamwork.

“Debate — not lockstep agreement — is the secret recipe for a high-performing team, a new six-year study has found…It is the ability to manage conflicting tensions — as opposed to seeking cohesion — that is the most predictive of top-team performance,” they concluded in their writeup of their results for Harvard Business Review. Teams who debated their ideas regularly and encouraged a healthy sparring over ideas emerged as the highest-performing groups — with a 22% better performance of developing new products than teams that always agreed.” (

Debate Teaches Conflict Resolution Skills. 

“Students say they are developing skills they can use off and on the debate stage.” As one debater stated, “When it comes to confrontation and arguments I might have, I more think about it as a debate, so it does not end up being more confrontational.’ (“Middle Schoolers Debate American Civics,” By NY1 News, November 1, 2017).