The academic achievement gap in the United States for Black students is driven by many factors, one of which is an access gap to educational resources (Bowman, Comer, & Johns, 2018). An “activities gap” between the average rate participation of white students and Black students in extracurricular activities contributes to the academic achievement gap experienced by Black students. It is obvious that some Black students are not achieving the academic success that they have the potential to obtain. The achievement gap faced by Black students is not due to a lack of academic acumen, but is rather due to the systemic exclusion of Black students from academic resources and opportunities. As teacher and speech coach Mike Yates (2018) says, it is more accurate to describe the “achievement gap” as an “opportunity gap.”
Given the existing opportunity gap between Black students and white students when it comes to participating in extracurricular activities, it is crucial to get more Black students involved in speech and debate. Empirical research that has examined the effects of speech and/or debate on academic success shows particularly promising results for Black students. A literature review of promising interventions aimed at reducing academic achievement gaps for Black students found that Urban Debate Leagues (UDLs) have shown promising results (Same, et al., 2018). After controlling for other variables, Black students participating in UDLs show greater improvement in language skills such as reading, writing, and speaking. Given the opportunity to participate in speech and debate, Black students gain skills that translate into higher GPAs, higher graduation rates, and higher standardized testing scores. It is the duty of schools, teachers, and coaches to improve the educational opportunities and achievement of all students, especially Black students who have been historically and systematically excluded from educational opportunities afforded to white students. Engaging and mentoring Black students in speech and debate is an evidence-based practice for helping to correct this inequity.
Bowman, B. T., Comer, J. P., & Johns, D. J. (2018, May). Addressing the African American Achievement Gap: Three Leading EDUCATORS issue a call to action. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/may2018/achievement-gap
Same, M. R., Guarino, N. I., Pardo, M., Benson, D., Fagan, K., & Lindsay, J. (2018, February). Evidence-supported interventions associated with black students’ educational outcomes: Findings from a systematic review of research. Retrieved April 14, 2020, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED581117.pdf