Rick Hess Calls Out AERA

What did Rick Hess write to provoke a response from the American Educational Research Association? Read this lively exchange between Hess, the AERA, and others, over AERA’s stance on a Mexican-American studies class in Tucson, Ariz., and its decision not to hold its 2013 meeting in Atlanta.


  1. AERA's responds to Rick Hess' Education Week blog post of March 7, 2012:

    Scientific scholarly associations frequently link knowledge and expertise to public policy discourse. One could argue that it is the responsibility of such organizations to disseminate their research findings in order to facilitate an informed public policy decision-making process. 

    In his blog, Dr. Hess recently questioned this practice, stating that it may lead to the "undermining of the profession's credibility." Dr. Hess pointed to two unrelated decisions by the American Educational Research Association (AERA). He failed to distinguish the nature of each, and in so doing, clearly misrepresented the association and its actions.

    One of the cases Dr. Hess refers to dealt with AERA's decision to respond to the suspension of Mexican American Studies programs in the Tucson Arizona public schools. Last month, the AERA leadership passed two resolutions directed at local education policy makers. As AERA stated, "A substantial body of research has shown that ethnic studies courses advance important state and national interests, including the production of better informed and more skilled students and the reduction of minority and majority out-group stereotyping and bias."

    AERA stands by the position that it based these resolutions on solid scientific findings. The same findings were the basis of amicus briefs that AERA filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 in the University of Michigan cases (Grutter v. Bollinger et al.; Gratz v. Bollinger, et al.) and in 2006 in the K-12 race-conscious school assignment cases (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1, et al.; Crystal D. Meredith, Custodial Parent and Next Friend of Joshua Ryan McDonald v. Jefferson County Board of Education, et al.). 

    In 2003, the research findings were sufficiently compelling that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor cited them in the majority decision specifically allowing for the narrow use of race in the admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School.

    In an unrelated matter, AERA recently decided to move its 2013 annual meeting from Atlanta, Georgia to another venue due to concerns over the impact of a recently passed immigration enforcement law. The new law empowers police in Georgia to investigate the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants. After hearing from concerned members, AERA made this decision in order to ensure that all meeting attendees, including large numbers of international participants and US persons of color, can participate fully in the meeting without fear of profiling, intimidation, or distraction from the purposes of an annual scholarly conference. AERA as an association has the obligation to host its meeting in venues conducive to scholarly discussion and debate, free of these types of distractions or chilling effects. 

    In both cases, the AERA leadership acted in a responsible and professional manner consonant with our mission and purpose as a research association. We believe that these decisions enhance the professional credibility of the education research field and promote the continued vibrancy of open academic exchange. Such decisions are never taken lightly by scientific associations. We are confident that an examination of the record will show that AERA is in very good company among respected scholarly societies.

    Felice J. Levine, PhD
    Executive Director
  2. Education Week opinion blogger Sara Mead finds fault with Rick Hess' argument.
  3. Rick Hess responds in his blog to the criticisms of his initial AERA post: "So long as AERA seems determined to hew to a politicized agenda, it seems reasonable to ask that members pay out of their own pockets to attend its gatherings or receive its publications." 
  4. Read some of our edweek.org readers' responses below.
  5. Ceolaf writes: 
    Hess's call is as a dumb as saying that my tax dollars shouldn't be used to pay for programs I don't like (e.g. drilling industry subsidies, The Iraq War, etc..).
    We can't say that just because I don't like a group's stance that it can't get any of OUR money. Some money goes to groups I don't like. Some money go to groups Hess doesn't like. 

    I have no doubt that I could come up with a long list of groups that Hess supports but who hew to a political agenda that I disagree with. And he knows that.

    So, he needs have some consistency and realize that the world does not revolve around him and his views.
  6. Plthomas writes:
    Thanks for acknowledging my perspective, Rick, but I see this falling apart on two fronts.

    (1) Trying to argue that being "non-political" is possible. If AERA chooses NOT to make a statement on these issues, then they ARE still making a statement...

    (2) The exact dynamic you are participating in, vibrant and open debate, IS politics...and AERA along with its members should stir the pot in order for there to be some understanding on key issues...

    Every organization Hess and any of us is connected to is being political...Doing so transparently v. pretending to be "objective" is where the issue/argument should lie...
  7. Sherman Dorn responds to the controversy in his own blog: