DEBATE-Kansas City is an Urban Debate League that provides middle and high school students debate workshops & tournaments, scholarships, resources, mentoring and general team support. DEBATE-Kansas City participants have achieved academic success and assumed leadership roles in high school, college and beyond. We encourage you to read through these materials to better understand the powerful impact that DEBATE-Kansas City can have on each student.
DEBATE-Kansas City was conceived in 1998 as part of a national movement to get debate back into urban schools, which was ironically fueled by the collapse of democracy in the former Soviet Union. When the Iron Curtain fell, the Open Society Institute (OSI) of New York was inspired to fund debate and democracy training in Eastern Europe. American supporters of debate used this moment to highlight the need for debate programs in America’s urban schools. Kansas City was one of several locations to receive a three-year grant from the (OSI) to start an Urban Debate League (UDL). The grant created a partnership between the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC) and local urban school districts to revive debate. DKC was given staff and resources to deliver debate related-services and manage the competitive league at no cost to seven urban schools. After the grant expired, participating school districts valued the program enough to fund its continuance; member schools began contributing annual service fees to retain DEBATE-Kansas City services. In 2003, to increase financial flexibility, DKC became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. However, program services were kept at UMKC through a mutually beneficial and highly successful partnership; from 2003 to 2010 DKC grew from 13 to 40 member schools.
DKC was created because in Kansas City, like many other cities across the United States, academic debate had become a thing of the past. Beginning with the loss of city tax revenue in the late 60’s city debate teams began fading away. However, prior to these cuts Kansas City had an incredible debate legacy. Melvin B. Tolson (pictured right), the greatest African American debate coach in our nation’s history, received his early speech training at Lincoln High. His success inspired the film The Great Debaters, where he was played by Denzel Washington. More recently, Joe Miller’s award winning book, Cross-X, detailed the journey and success of the Kansas City Central debate team.
The most recent economic recession challenged DKC programming as many schools were forced to reduce debate budgets but led by its Board of Directors DKC increased fundraising efforts to offset public financial loses. In 2012-13 DKC school membership grew and student participation nearly doubled. The network of school district and community support DKC built prevented temporary budget cuts from permanently eliminating debate programming.
In addition to success with growth in participation, a recent DKC program graduate made collegiate debate history. Ryan Wash, a graduate of Central High, was part of the first policy debate team to ever win both collegiate debate championships in the same year for Emporia State. In April of 2013 Ryan and his partner Elijah Smith (a fellow UDL graduate from New Jersey) won the 66-year old National Debate Tournament (NDT) after winning the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) tournament the weekend before. They were the first all black team to win the NDT and first team to ever win both CEDA and the NDT.
The history-making tournament victories were document in The Kansas City Star. In addition, Ryan visited the 2013 DKC Awards Night and gave a compelling address about debate and how it changed his life that you can see here.
Research consistently confirms that debate is an effective pedagogical tool to increase academic achievement, leadership, and self-image. Below are some highlights from our experience and from large research projects designed to measure the effect of debate on a student.
DEBATE-Kansas City Data
– Senior graduate rate over 95%
– More than 35 DKC graduates have received scholarships to debate at 10 different college.
– Average participant GPA 3.25
Data from National Studies on Debate
Briana Mezuk, “Urban Debate and High School Educational Outcomes for African American Males: The Case of the Chicago Debate League.” The Journal of Negro Education 78(3) (2009), p. 290-304.
- Debaters are 40% more likely to graduate high school; amongst African Americans the number is 70%
- The more rounds a student debates the more likely they are to graduate
- Debater GPAs are .20 higher than peers
- African American male debaters are 70% more likely to reach ACT benchmarks in reading and 50% more likely in English
Collier, Linda, “Argument for Success: A Study of Academic Debate in Urban High Schools of Chicago, Kansas City, New York, St. Louis, and Seattle” Paper Presentation, Hawaii International Conference on Social Science, June 16-19 2004.
- Urban debate improves reading scores 25% in one year
Allen, Mike; Berkowitz, Sandra; Hunt, Steve; and Louden, Allen. “Measuring the Impact of Forensics and Communication Education on Critical Thinking: A Meta-Analytic Summary.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association, Chicago. November, 1997
- Debate and speech increase critical thinking 44%
Hall, G. (2006). Civic connections: Urban debate and democracy in action during out-of-school time. Afterschool Matters: Occasional Paper Series, 7.
- Debaters are significantly more likely to become engaged democratic citizens
The Effect of the Minnesota Urban Debate League on the Academic and Social Development Outcomes of Students, First Year Report (2005).
- 36% improvement in reading
- Debaters were 30% less likely to have attendance problems
- Debaters were least likely to engage in at-risk behavior and in the study 100% reported zero drug use, early pregnancy, and/or alcohol.
DEBATE-Kansas City has impacted thousands of students, educators and community members. The following are a few testimonials that demonstrate the effect that this powerful activity can have at the individual-level.
“The biggest gift that debate gives students is a belief in themselves. I know of few other classes that can make that statement. After success at their first few encounters with debates, students see themselves in a different way. It becomes obvious that by working at this activity they can do anything. That is the “magic”, if you will, that happens in the debate room.”
– Jane Rinehart, Member of DKC Coaches Hall of Fame
“..School lets out at about 2:15, and that leaves plenty of hours before the parents get home for kids just to roam the streets. And that’s where their problems really tend to happen, immediately after school. And there’s just nothing to do. People starting losing faith and reasons to come to school because they don’t see what’s at the end of the road, and that’s what debate provides.”
– Marcus Leach, DKC alumni and recent Howard Law graduate on NPR’s Talk of the Nation
The award-winning 2006 book Cross-X chronicled the success of Central’s debate team. Head coach Jane Rinerhart inspired debaters like Marcus Leach to break barriers and win championships.
“Wash said he saved his education by joining Central’s debate team, which traveled to private prep schools across the Midwest.”
-Ryan Wash DKC Alumnus commenting in the Kansas City Star 2010
“To be a part of that top 20 – you could have told me that I got twentieth and it would have felt like first place,” Williams- Green said. It resonated and was very symbolic for me…it’s a white male dominant activity and so for any minority to come in and do well is not only unheard of but speaks volumes to the evolutionary patterns of debate – it was good, it was real good.”
– LaToya Green-Williams, DKC Alumnus commenting on her national speaking award in the ESU Bulletin, 2011
DEBATE-Kansas City is an Urban Debate League that provides middle and high school students debate workshops & tournaments, scholarships, resources, mentoring and general team support. DEBATE-Kansas City impacts hundreds of students each year at a very low cost per student ratio. The vast majority of these students would not have access to competitive debate without DEBATE-Kansas City, and each would have a diminished experience in debate. The following are some specific services that DEBATE-Kansas City provides to its schools:
Complete DKC Tournament Season (typically 8 )
Debate League Management
Complete Curriculum & Research Files
60+ Hours of Debate Coach Professional Development
Awards Night Celebration
Student Workshops & Rewards
Annual City Championship
Unique Events, Advocacy & Outreach
College Connections & Scholarships
Great Debater Award
Digital Outreach—Blog, Face book & YouTube
National Urban Debate Support & Championship
Melvin B. Tolson Senior Award
Access to Summer Debate Camp Scholarships