Chicago Debate League 


Academic and enrichmentThe Chicago Debate League (CDL) is one of the premier citywide academic competitions for Chicago high school and middle school students. Founded in
1997, the CDL is the largest and most competitively successful Urban Debate League
in the 24 city Urban Debate Network. The CDL has won six consecutive national championships in urban debate, and in 2010 a team from the CDL (from Whitney Young Magnet H.S.) won the National Forensic League National Championship in debate. Representatives from the CDL were invited to the White House Oval Office to meet President Obama in the summer of 2010 for their achievements.


The CDL encompasses 68 schools – 54 high schools and 14 elementary schools, and will reach more than 1,000 students and involve more than 115 coaches, most of whom are CPS teachers. The CDL runs 27 competitive academic debate tournaments and hundreds of hours of formal academic debate training for students and ISBE-endorsed professional development for educators. The CDL also sponsors debate competition between CPS students and debaters from around the region and nation.


The CDL is administered by a partnership between CPS and the Chicago Debate Commission, a non-profit organization founded in 1995 to provide academic debate programming to public school students in Chicago. The CDL has garnered involvement from universities in Chicago – including DePaul, Loyola, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, UIC, and ISU – along with support from major corporations and law firms in Chicago, including Allstate, Mayer Brown, DLA Piper, McDermott Will & Emery, Performance Trust, and others.


In 2009 a study performed by researchers at the University of Michigan, drawing on student participation data from the first ten years of the CDL and cross-matching them with research in the University of Chicago Consortium on Urban School Research was published by the Journal of Negro Education. The findings were dramatic. CDL debaters are three times less likely to drop out of high school, 70% more likely to be college ready in reading, based on ACT benchmarks, and 50% more likely to be college ready in English, than their comparable non-debating peers. [Mezuk, B. (2009). 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), 290-304.].



Academic and enrichment
  • Teach students how to formulate informed opinions and how to communicate them effectively
  • Develop student leadership and academic skills
  • Prepare students for college by training them to think critically, argue using textual sources, organize their writing and speaking, and research.
  • Increase test scores, high school graduation and college matriculation rates.
  • Narrow the achievement gap and enhance academic achievement


High School Debate


Academic and enrichmentStudents participating in The Chicago Debate League gain:

  • Critical thinking, oratorical, research and public speaking skills
  • Self-esteem and confidence
  • College preparatory experiences on campuses and in competition with suburban and private school students in debate






Middle School Debate



Students should contact the debate coach at their school in order to participate. There may be specific school pre-requisites for joining the team.


Chicago Debate Summer Institute (CDSI)

Academic and enrichmentThe CDSI is a summer debate camp for debaters modeled on elite university debate institutes. The CDSI is taught by highly recognized faculty and teaches effective debate techniques. The summer program serves as the kick-off event for the year's Chicago Debate Season. This past summer, the program served about 120 students.



Learn more about the local and national debate leagues.


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Urban Debate League Opens in a new window icon

Contact information

Chicago Debate League
125 South Clark Street
12th Floor

Chicago, Illinois 60603
Phone: (773) 553-3593
Fax: (773) 553-4330