The Displaced Plainsman and I see more bad policy and bromides from federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan than cause for cheer. But at least Secretary Duncan recognizes the solid educational of competitive debate. In a speech last Thursday to the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues, Sec. Duncan spoke of the expansion of debate programs that took place while he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. The fact that he called himself "CEO" again dampens my enthusiasm... but let's stay on point:

We approved the first rigorous study of the impact of urban debate leagues on student performance.

That study, done jointly by the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, examined ten years of data from the Chicago Debate League. It found that competitive debate significantly raises graduation rates, ACT scores, and students' GPA—and that's even after controlling for student self-selection in to competitive debate.

To be very clear, the experience of competing on an urban debate team boosts your college readiness—and your chance to succeed in life [Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, speech to NAUDL Annual Dinner, 2012.04.12].

Secretary Duncan here refers to research that I've cited in my proposals for counterplans to Governor Daugaard's HB 1234. Right now, just a couple dozen South Dakota schools participate in competitive debate activites with any regularity. With the $15 million Governor Daugaard wants to throw away on discredited merit pay schemes, we could hire 200 new teachers at $40K/year, train them in debate, distribute those teachers to every school district in South Dakota currently not doing debate (with larger districts getting two), and give every school district $45,000 to pay for the materials and travel necessary to support competitive debate programs in every school district in the state.

The academic benefits of debate in every South Dakota school would include the anecdotal evidence that Secretary Duncan cites: "exposure to academic rigor... harnessing the competitive instincts of young teens... channeling them into building the skills they need to succeed in a knowledge-based, global economy." Those benefits also include gains in graduation rates, test scores, and college readiness that are much more certain than anything the Governor's people have cited on HB 1234.

Let's get serious about academic achievement. Let's replace one year of our high school language arts requirement with one year of high school debate required for every student.