Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Urban Debate and High School Educational Outcomes for African American Males: The Case of the Chicago Debate League

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Urban Debate and High School Educational Outcomes for African American Males: The Case of the Chicago Debate League

Article excerpt

This study examines whether participating in competitive policy debate influences high school completion, academic achievement, and college readiness for African American male students. The analysis examines data from the Chicago Debate League from 1997 to 2006. Debate participants were 70% more likely to graduate and three times less likely to drop out as those who did not participate, even after accounting for 8th grade test scores and grade point average. Debate participants were more likely to score at or above the ACT benchmarks for college readiness in English and reading, but not in science or mathematics, than those who did not participate. Recurrent participation in policy debate positively influences scholastic achievement among African American male students in this urban setting.

In 2003, the national high school graduation rate was 70%; however, there was marked variation in high school completion rates by region and urbanicity (Swanson, 2008). The 2003 graduation rate in the city of Chicago Public School district was only 48% (Chicago Public Schools OREA, 2009), which is consistent with data showing that urban public school districts have, on average, lower high school completion rates than their suburban counterparts (Swanson, 2008). Racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately experience poor educational attainment even in these ?^aßfßG??p??^ urban settings. For example, within Chicago the 2003 graduation rate for nonHispanic White students was approximately 10% higher than for African American students (54.0% vs. 44.5%, respectively; Chicago Public Schools OREA, 2009). Within urban districts like Chicago, African American males have particularly low graduation rates and high dropout rates relative to their non-Hispanic White counterparts (35% and 61%, respectively; Chicago Public Schools OREA, 2009). Disparities in college matriculation and graduation mirror those seen in secondary education. African American men are less likely to graduate high school, less likely to matriculate to either two or four-year postsecondary education than Whites, and, once in college, are less likely to graduate in six years (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, & Ginder, 2009).

Ensuring that African American males graduate from high school and possess the literacy skills to succeed in college, in the workplace, and in broader society is a core priority for education policymakers. It is estimated that 25% of high school students read "below basic" level and nearly 40% of high school graduates lack the literacy skills employers seek (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Substantial investments have been made to improve reading performance in elementary education, but few programs are available to effectively address secondary literacy for urban students generally, or African American men specifically. While urban students show steady improvement in early literacy, many studies isolate a "fourth grade slump"- a point in literacy learning where students begin to transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" and where students who will eventually read below grade level in later years show marked difference from their peers (Chali & Jacobs 2003; Chali, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990). The literacy gains in economically poor school districts generally flat-line or decline at this point relative to more affluent districts (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2006; U.S. Department of Education, 2005). This slump has severe consequences, since only 21% of African American and 33% of Hispanic high school graduates meet college readiness benchmarks for reading (ACT, 2006). Secondary literacy impacts both reading intensive courses (i.e., literature and composition) and students' ability to access and master material and concepts across the curriculum (Snow & Biancarosa, 2003). Thus, student progress as a whole can be significantly impaired when students have poor secondary reading skills.

Findings increasingly indicate that improving secondary literacy requires sustained engagement with complex texts. …

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