Rural regions face a unique set of educational challenges. Issues such as low funding and limited opportunities to participate in afterschool activities create unnecessary hurldles that disproportionately affect rural students. Competitive debaters have been shown to exhibit significantly higher levels of college readiness, academic performance, standardized test scores, and four-year university attendance and graduation rates than non-debaters. RuDI seeks to improve rural participation in competitive debate to help bridge the achievement gap between rural and non-rural students.
In-person competitive debate and other competitive afterschool activities have traditionally been very difficult to implement in rural regions. Long distances between schools make travel both time-consuming and costly, and smaller average student populations make finding interested students and qualified instructors in the same school more difficult.
RuDI will be organized primarily in a virtual format which will allow for the creation of a diverse community composed of rural students from across the country that will not require extensive tournament travel and allow for both partnerships between students from differing schools and coaching between coaches and students located in different parts of the country.
A virtual debate ecosystem is now a real possibility in a post-COVID world. In 2020 and 2021, substantial investments in technology and broadband access made online learning a real possibility, particularly in rural regions. Many competitive debates successfully transferred online during this period, further demonstrating the potential to bring debate to rural students.
Rural education is unfortunately characterized by:
Significant gap in 4-year college education attainment
Vastly higher child poverty in rural areas
Much less educational funding than urban counterparts
There is also a gap in participation in extracurricular activities.
Demand for afterschool programs in rural areas is at an all-time high. However, the number of available opportunities has not caught up to demand due to both a lack of funding and teachers to pilot and maintain the programs.
Even for existing programs, there are many barriers to participation for both the parents and the students that make sustained participation difficult. These concerns are especially pronounced in rural areas.
Increased funding towards rural broadband development
The American Rescue Plan allocated $122 billion in funding to K-12 education that is available for use through the fall of 2024. Furthermore , the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created an unprecedented $20 billion fund to motivate mobile operators and service providers to construct broadband networks in underserved and unserved areas.
Significant improvement in rural broadband coverage
Rural communities have continued to improve the adoption of broadband internet access year-over-year, climbing to 83% in 2019 based on the latest FCC Broadband Deployment Report, and is likely to further increase through 2022. Lack of internet access will hopefully no longer be an impediment in accessing debate for most students.
Improvement in access to learning devices
In addition to expanded device access (now at 90%), the National Center for Education Statistics found in a survey that 8 out of 10 schools rated the quality of devices used in learning to be good or very good.
Pivot towards online and hybrid tournament in the debate community
Out of a sample of 126 debate tournaments (based on available data from tabroom.com), 86 have been held online or are planned to be held online in 2022. For in-person tournaments, there are often hybrid models, which allow for students to enter online. At the National Debate Tournament (the college national championship), the top 2 teams competed virtually, and 19 out of 78 teams participated online.
However, COVID brought unforeseeable changes to the landscape.
Research has proven debaters to have...
point higher in Grade Point Average
points higher in Math SAT score
higher chances of College graduation rate
points higher in Reading and Writing SAT score
This is why we started RuDI.
Amidst the recent broadband advancements in rural areas and in recognition of the benefits of debate, a new model is needed to take advantage of the moment and the Rural Debate Initiative is the answer.
We help lower the cost of debating to virtually 0 by facilitating and encouraging virtual debate.
We help bypass the distance barrier by hosting and organizing online debate camps and tournaments.
We link individuals around the country by building a nationwide community of driven individuals.
We are building a new future for debate - one where those with limited access to debate can be afforded the opportunities they deserve.