Diana Hess is the Senior Vice President of the Spencer Foundation, a Foundation devoted to supporting high-quality investigation of education through its research programs and to strengthening and renewing the educational research community through its fellowship and training programs and related activities. In her position at Spencer, Hess serves as a partner to Foundation President Michael McPherson in shaping Spencer’s strategic directions, in guiding the organization’s and the staff’s work, and in representing the Foundation in its interactions with its partners, clients, and friends. Hess works on strategic planning, leads the New Civics research initiative and a new project to develop “disciplined dialogues”. She is on leave from her position as a professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Formerly, Hess was a high school teacher, teachers’ union president, and the associate executive director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. Hess earned a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle, advised by Professor Walter Parker.
Since 1997 she has been researching how teachers engage their students in discussions of highly controversial political and constitutional issues, and what impact this approach to civic education has on what young people learn. Her first book on this topic, Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion won the National Council for the Social Studies Exemplary Research Award in 2009. She is currently writing two other books about controversial issues and civic education, The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education is co-authored by Paula McAvoy, and will be published in 2014. Following that, she will begin working on Courting Democracy: Teaching About Constitutions, Courts, and Cases.