Diana Hess is dean of UW–Madison’s School of Education. She first arrived on campus in 1999, joining the School’s highly ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction as an assistant professor. She became an associate professor in 2005 and a full professor in 2009. In 2011 she took a leave from the university to serve as senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation in Chicago. The organization funds research to improve education policy and practice. Hess today also holds the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education. She was elected to the National Academy of Education in 2019.
Since 1997, Hess 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. Her most recent book, "The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education," co-authored with Paula McAvoy, won the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Book Award in 2016 and the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 2017. Also in 2017, Hess was recognized by the National Council for the Social Studies with the Grambs Distinguished Career Award for Research.
Hess is deeply committed to working with teachers to improve the quality of democratic education in schools.