Professor Heath is a Professor of English and Linguistics Emeritus at Stanford University. She is a linguistic anthropologist whose primary interests are oral and written language, youth development, race relations, and organizational learning. She is the author of the prize-winning book Ways with words: Language, life, and work in communities and classrooms (1983) and co-editor of Identity and inner-city youth: Beyond ethnicity and gender (1993), as well as several other books and over 100 articles and book chapters.

She is widely known for her work with young people as co-researchers in the townships of Johannesburg, South Africa, as well as economically disadvantaged communities of the United States. Her primary research since 1987 has been with young people in under-resourced neighborhoods who learn entrepreneurial and community-building skills as they help create and sustain positive learning environments that contribute local cultural and economic resources. Her special interest in this work is documenting organizational structures and communication practices that surround everyday learning and progression in complex task achievement.

Currently, the focus of Heath's research is on linguistic and cognitive learning that takes place through means such as apprenticeship, mentoring, organizational management, and financial planning that depend on observing, listening, and modeling and go beyond direct verbal instruction. Research is now underway on highly innovative means of enabling young artists who want to be community organizational leaders to have opportunities to advance their own work as artists while also studying nonprofit management and finance. This work is international and includes young people as members of the research team.

Professor Heath has received distinguished career research awards from both the American Association for Applied Linguistics and the American Educational Research Association, which is AERA's highest honor.