By Rohan Kumar
In 2012, Mike Wasserman was approached by the Boston Public Schools with a problem: How do you spread the academic and societal benefits of debate to all students in Boston Public Schools? His answer was to use his organization, the Boston Debate League, to create a program called Evidence-Based Argumentation (EBA).
Five years later, EBA has grown into a professional development course administered to teachers within the school system. During this course, teachers are taught how to analyze and highlight evidence specific to their claims to reinforce the strategy in the classroom.
For example, if a teacher asks students to evaluate the historical claim that Abraham Lincoln was the best president of the United States, the students would be required to find evidence that supports that claim, thus creating an argument to support it.
EBA is part of a broader trend that has been sweeping the nation. In hospitals, the integration of best-available evidence is crucial in deciding on various patients’ treatment plans, according to the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. Evidence-based practices are also used in court systems across the country to reduce the rate of recidivism.
Nearly 400 Boston teachers have taken part in this development course, across 10 schools. Although the sample size is small, Wasserman believes there has been a “definite difference” in student performance in schools where EBA has been implemented. He pointed out two schools that have performed better than average, Burke High School and Mildred Avenue K-8, as a result of this program.
Mildred Avenue showed the second best student growth on the PARCC, a yearly test given to all Massachusetts students that measures academic performance growth. Meanwhile, Burke became the first high school in Massachusetts to be taken off probationary status, as they have improved student academic performance over the past few years. Wasserman said that the headmasters of those schools have attributed the growth to the EBA program. He believes that the improvement is due to an increase in student engagement.
“We tried to change the learning model where the teacher stands and delivers the content,” he said. “We want the students active and engaged, with the teachers acting as facilitators for a class discussion.”
Not only is the program boosting academic performance, it is also extremely popular among teachers. According to Boston Debate League’s website, “Teachers who participated unanimously agreed that they would recommend this course to their colleagues.”
Currently, the program is exclusive to the Boston Public School system. However, Wasserman said that debate leagues in Rhode Island and Minnesota have shown interest in developing a similar program. Ashley Belanger, the executive director of the Rhode Island Urban Debate League, said that they are implementing their own EBA initiative in Providence, using a similar professional development course.
According to its website, because of its success, the Boston Debate League plans to expose every student and teacher in the city’s public schools to EBA techniques.