Date of Award

Fall 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy and Leadership

First Advisor

Pink, William

Second Advisor

Eckman, Ellen

Third Advisor

Dale, Timothy


Over the course of the past three decades Urban Debate Leagues have been established on the premise that they improve schooling for underserved students. Founded in predominantly urban areas, these leagues have been positioned as a recent educational reform effort intended to empower students and foster educational and personal growth. This dissertation focuses specifically on the ways in which students involved in a Milwaukee Urban Debate League participating school have been affected by the experience with respect to academic achievement, self-efficacy, and civic empowerment. Through focusing on student voice, this research project examines the ways in which students manifest change in educational-related aptitude and effort both within and beyond the classroom as a result of participating in Urban Debate League sponsored activities. In addition to the effects on academic achievement, this study also addresses factors pertaining to how participating in urban debate influences student self-esteem and the extent to which they involve themselves in activities beyond the classroom at school and also outside the school within the local community. Findings indicate that urban debate participation has a positive effect on academics, although certain skill areas are affected more than others. The findings also indicate positive effects on self-efficacy related to self-esteem, but to a lesser extent enhancement of social interactions and personal expectations for going off to college. In the area of civic empowerment, the results are less conclusive that urban debate participation alters student involvement in and beyond their school community. Interviews and observations serve as the primary sources of data for the purposes of this study.

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