Policy makers have advanced out-of-school time learning as a means to address far-reaching class and racial/ethnic disparities in high school achievement and college readiness, particularly in urban districts. However, limited data have hindered large-scale efforts to evaluate the influence of such activities on student achievement. Recent federal policy has encouraged the development of data systems that track students over the academic life course, and while these datasets hold great opportunity for research they pose inherent methodological challenges. This study applies a novel statistical approach in a comprehensive administrative dataset to evaluate the relationship between participating in a policy debate program and academic achievement in the Chicago Public School (CPS) district from 1997 to 2006 (N = 9145). Using multiple imputation to account for missing data and selective attrition, and propensity score matching to account for self-selection, we find that debaters were more likely to graduate, more likely to meet ACT college-readiness benchmarks, and had greater gains in cumulative grade point average (GPA) over the course of high school relative to comparable peers. This is the largest evaluation study of a debate program on achievement, and these findings suggest that debate programs may offer a means to extend learning time and promote engagement with scholastic materials in a manner that translates into academic performance.
Key words: Education, out-of-school time learning, afterschool activities, achievement gap.
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