Diana E. Hess is the Dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she also holds the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education. Formerly, Hess was the Senior Vice President of the Spencer Foundation, where she spearheaded the development of the Disciplined Dialogues Project, an innovative and rigorous process of deliberation and communication that seeks to improve education by informing research, practice, and policy about highly controversial educational topics – such as charter schools and teaching quality. Before this, Hess was a high school teacher, teachers’ union president, and the associate executive director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. She also leads the New Civics Project that is funding the development of measures of the quality of youth civic and political engagement. Hess earned a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle. 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.
Professor Hess is deeply committed to working with teachers to improve the quality of democratic education in schools. To that end, she frequently keynotes conferences, and leads professional development courses and workshops. Professor Hess serves on several boards: The Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, the iCivics Scholars Advisory Board, the National Urban Debate League, and the Donors Forum.
Watch Diana Hess's Ed-Talk at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Diana Hess is also a regular contributor to Social Education.
Paula McAvoy began her career as a high school social studies teacher in California, where she taught for and co-directed the Foothill Middle College Program for ten years. She went on to earn her doctorate in philosophy of education from the department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After completing that degree in 2010, she worked as an assistant professor at Illinois State University and then became an Associate Program Officer at the Spencer Foundation. She is currently the Program Director of the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Paula’s philosophic work focuses on the aims of schooling in a democratic society, and she has recently used the tools of moral and political philosophy to consider cases of cultural and religious accommodation and the aims of sex education. Some of this work has been published in Educational Theory and Theory and Research in Education. In 2006, she began working with Diana Hess on the Discussing Controversial Issues study, which provides the evidentiary basis for The Political Classroom. During the analysis of this work they noticed that teachers were confronting some common ethical problems in the classroom and that they were making quite different decisions about how best to respond. By bringing philosophy into conversation with the empirical findings, we hope to have made a contribution to democratic education that is more helpful to educators than a strictly empirical study and is more attentive to the complex task of teaching than a strictly philosophical work.
Read Paula McAvoy's feature in Teaching Tolerance, "Polarized Classrooms". Read McAvoy, Fine, and Ward's research report on state standards and teaching about political ideology and political parties.