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Top Scholar in Teaching Controversial Issues to Receive NCSS Distinguished Career Award

SILVER SPRING, Md. (Nov. 14, 2017) - National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) selected Diana E. Hess as the 2017 Jean Dresden Grambs Distinguished Career Research in Social Studies Award recipient. Hess is the Dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair in Education. She has been a professor in the School’s #1-ranked Department of Curriculum and Instruction since 1999. The award will be presented at the NCSS 97th Annual Conference during the College and University Faculty Assembly (CUFA) Business Meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 5:15 p.m. at the InterContinental Hotel, San Francisco. Hess will also discuss the implications of her career-long research findings and the key role of teachers in engaging their students in lively discussions of controversial political issues at “The Case for High Quality Discussion of Controversial Issues,” Friday, Nov. 17 at 1:00 p.m., Rm. 2004, Moscone West. Press passes for these events are available here.

Since beginning her teaching career as a high school teacher in Downers Grove, Illinois in 1979, Hess has contributed greatly to the advancement of the field of social studies through her research, teaching, developing new curriculum and programs, mentoring of teachers, non-profit leaders, and graduate students, and service to the field. Her groundbreaking studies, including most recently, a five-year longitudinal study which involved observations, interviews, and surveys with over a thousand students in 21 schools and multiple states, have provided compelling evidence that engaging young people in discussion of controversial political issues is an essential component in preparing them for full participation in civic life.

“Perhaps no social studies education scholar now living has done so much and achieved so much as Dr. Hess. She is the grandest name in our field and for very good reason. Her research on social studies education generally and civic education especially is known for its field-advancing qualities and its imaginative vision,” said former winner of the award, Dr. Walter Parker, Professor of Social Studies, University of Washington-Seattle.

"Diana Hess you have done a service for which social studies/science educators are grateful and indebted to you," said Terry Cherry, President, NCSS. “It is not only of critical importance to the field, it has encouraged students to be engaged in the curriculum, but most importantly, it has opened up a path to youth civic engagement.”

“Dr. Hess’ research conveys important understandings about the role of discussion and deliberation of controversial topics in the classroom. It demonstrates the essential role that teachers play in ensuring that we provide our students with the content knowledge and skills necessary to be effective participants in our democracy,” said Dr. Lawrence Paska, Executive Director, NCSS.

Throughout her career, Hess has shared her research broadly with educators, researchers, and administrators through extensive professional development programs for teachers, conference presentations, speaking engagements, articles in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters, and two books: “Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion,” which won the NCSS Exemplary Research Award in 2009; and “The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education,” coauthored with Paula McAvoy, which won the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Book Award in 2016 and the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 2017.

Through her previous role as Senior Vice President of the Spencer Foundation, Hess took the lead in deepening and expanding the Foundation’s work related to civic education. She serves as a member of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago (an organization where she served as the Associate Director from 1987-1995) and the iCivics Scholars Advisory Board. Hess earned her PhD from the University of Washington, Seattle, her MA from the University of Illinois, Urbana, and her BA from Western Illinois University.

The NCSS Annual Conference is the largest and most comprehensive social studies professional development conference in the United States, where social studies educators share, interact, develop ideas, and enhance their skills. This year’s theme, “Expanding Visions/Bridging Traditions,” will offer more than 900 content-rich sessions covering all subjects and grade levels, a lineup of renowned speakers and education experts, and numerous exhibiting organizations displaying the latest in educational resources. For more information visit:

Founded in 1921, National Council for the Social Studies is the largest professional association in the country devoted solely to social studies education. The mission of National Council for the Social Studies is to provide leadership, service, and support for all social studies educators. The NCSS membership represents K-12 classroom teachers, college and university faculty members, curriculum designers and specialists, social studies supervisors, and leaders in the various disciplines that constitute the social studies.

NCSS regards social studies as the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence. Within the school program, social studies provides coordinated, systematic study drawing upon such disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology, as well as appropriate content from the humanities, mathematics, and natural sciences. The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.

For More Information:

Ana Post
Director of Communications 
301.588.1800, Ext. 114