Beware of Ruby Payne

December 31, 2008

Dangerously Irrelevant Blogger Scott McLeod is writing a series of posts under the theme “Beware of Educational Consultants”.  Featured in this series on consultants about whom districts should be cautious is Ruby Payne, infamous consultant on the educational needs of poor children.  His post nicely summarizes some of the published criticism of Payne’s work.

McLeod asks, reasonably:

First, should districts be spending their monies on a consultant whose work has been accused of being riddled with hundreds of unproven assertions? …  Are most districts that hire Dr. Payne aware of the criticisms that have been leveled against her work? And, third, even if so, should districts’ professional development work involve a consultant/speaker that’s this controversial, no matter how famous or widespread her message is?

Don’t miss Scott’s inclusion of a  You Tube critique of Payne posted by a 14 year old reader.  If a 14 year old gets it, why don’t more district staff development offices?

And don’t miss the comments.

(And I’m honestly ready to move on from the “people who criticize Payne’s work are just Ivory Tower Academics living without any clue about what really goes on in schools for poor kids” rebuttals.  Honestly, don’t you folks have anything better than unfounded personal criticism to answer the research?  For the record, I’ve taught in rural southern Appalachia, in the urban south, in the working class Midwest and I was appalled by what I saw in  my very first skim through Payne’s book because it was so clearly  poorly researched. )

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20 Responses to “Beware of Ruby Payne”

  1. stephanie jones Says:

    In some recent professional development workshops I facilitated focusing on social class, poverty, and classism – I handed out a typed “case study” from R.P.’s Framework book and asked my students to discuss it (without the name of the author on it). They were appalled! Even laughed out loud about the stereotypes about social class, poverty, and ethnicity that were blatant in the very short “case” that readers of her book are supposed to “learn” from.

    When I revealed the author’s name (most teachers had read her book and/or gone through the training), they couldn’t believe it. Eyes widened, jaws fell open, and they really couldn’t believe that such blatant racism, classism, sexism would be used as a resource to “develop” teachers.

    Discussions continued and were fabulous, with a small number of folks saying some of the same things as you all such as R.P. helps to develop awareness, introduces folks to social class and poverty who may not otherwise consider these issues, etc.

    There are fabulous teachers to read her work, critique it, and use it the way they wish and I applaud them. But when school districts across the nation are spending millions of dollars on books, professional development, and other materials that “introduce” teachers to poverty and social class through a classist resource – there is a serious problem.

    It’s akin to “introducing” teachers to race by using KKK material…

    R.P. has no respect for poor or working-class people (at least as represented through her writing), in fact she refers to a “fictitious” mother as “White Trash” IN THE RESOURCE FOR TEACHERS. This is the worst kind of professional development we can provide or receive…the kind that deepens the dehumanization of people who struggle to make economic ends meet and the acceptance of disgust with and toward families and children.

    R.P. promotes the ideal “middle-class life” as something that is romanticized, should be aspired to at all costs, and is actually attainable given the right speech, manners, and dress. She is wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

    What we’re missing in education is a straight-forward book-length and PD-oriented machine that can be an alternative to Ruby Payne. Problem is, folks who work in education and who know how wrong she is are too busy working (teaching, doing research, writing, doing community service and outreach, etc. etc.) to put their life into sales and marketing.

    Critiquing Ruby Payne has nothing to do with being in the ivory tower, per se, and everything to do with “marketing” and “money” and R.P.’s relentless push for saturating the education market in a way that has made her quite wealthy. The Martha Stewart of poverty, perhaps, which doesn’t mean other people don’t have better ideas that are grounded in research but that they don’t get the attention R.P. does…

    sorry for the rant…thanks for the space:)

    • Mr. Hanson Says:

      Ms. Jones

      I believe you make some valid points to the shortcummings of R,P research. But, most important is the hidden rules of those students who where born into generational poverty. I truley believe that R,P is right about some of her views on the hidden rules of poverty. I first hand have worked with students and parents that find education to be valued as abstract. I can also tell you that many of the text books used in public education are designed to fit the needs of middle class society. Many of my students to not have the vocabulary structure to understand many of the story problems in their mathematics book. I also think that R,P hit the nail on the head when she describe that possessions to individuals in poverty centered around people. For six years I’ve had the pleasure to work with many bright impoverished youths who where mastering my math class. But for so many of my female students they would return to school the next year and be prenant. I can only say that for many of them is was something they could call thier own.

      • janevangalen Says:

        Hello Mr. Hanson. Thanks for commenting. Interesting points about possessions centering around people. I wonder what this says about the upper middle class parents that we’re reading so much about now how push their kids to excel at sports and to get into very competitive preschools so that they can get into the very best colleges 15 years later, who involve their kids in so many scheduled activities to the point that we have so many stressed children. A lot of researchers see this sort of behavior as being in part about parents’ need to have the public see *them* as successful, even at the expense of their offspring experiencing a carefree childhood.

        I really am curious about what you see as the major differences in seeing children as possessions, between the two classes.

  2. WTL Says:

    I just finished reading Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding poverty. I am reading this text for a course. What I am going to walk away with is an awareness for strategies that may work with students that are living in families that are at the poverty level. I also felt that in her book she describes “working families” not just families that are in poverty. It is difficult to communicate with families from all classes when it comes to their student’s achievement.
    I think that as an educator is important to be aware of current research and strategies for working with students.

    • janevangalen Says:

      Hello WTL.
      Thanks for reading and for the comment.

      I agree with you completely that educators need to be aware of current research and effective strategies for working with all kids.

      I live by this.

      My work as a teacher educator is regularly reviewed by those I work with in annual reviews, by anonymous expert reviewers when I send my research out out to be published for other educators to learn from, and by my state department of education when they come to review how and what I teach pre-service and practicing teachers about working with low-income and working class families. The state insists that my work be research- based and that my students learn what research tells them about best practice. If I want to publish something, the reviewers will be especially mindful of whether I’m grounding my work in the research that came before me and in very carefully planned research methods of my own. I’m deeply committed to the work of educating these kid well, in large part because this is my own background and that of many of my students.

      And that’s exactly why I’m so concerned about Ruby Payne. She has not done research. She does not subject her writing to the same kinds of peer review that all of us in teacher ed (many of whom strongly disagree with her –based on actual research)– she instead created her own publishing company to sell her work directly to thousands of teachers. She is completely free to also publish her research in any of the journals that the rest of us do, but she never has. Why do you think this is, if she’s committed to research-based strategies?

      Many, many researchers believe that Ruby Payne is missing much of the lives of poor children, and that she has no evidence that her strategies are effective. Stephanie Jones, who comments below, has been doing excellent research with poor children and their families for years and she takes very different approaches from Ms. Payne.

      In our shared commitment to staying up on current research and effective strategies for working with all kids, would you be willing to read some of Stephanie’s work and then come back and comment again?

  3. Sam Knecht Says:

    I have just finished Ruby Payne’s book A Framework For Understanding Poverty. I really found the book to be very informative. I feel that Ruby Payne writes with the intention of helping those who are struggling. Her work has done a great job informing and inspiring educators. This book does give some suggestions on how to educate children living in poverty. However, as educators in an ever changing society we really need strong, solid, research-based practices to help all children who walk through our school doors. I do not feel like this book offers such practices.


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