Ruby Payne, Scholar?

January 17, 2009

As she comes under much more critical scrutinty lately, Ruby Payne keeps digging herself in deeper.

Case in Point:  In the January issue of Kappan Mistilina Sato and Tim Lensmire is a very good article critiquing Payne and proposing work that more substantively prepares teachers to understand the lives of poor students. They note, as many others have also done,  that Payne’s work is based on many unsubstantiated claims.

Payne responds in the same issue with a more general response to criticism of her book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. She begins with the tiresome claim that she’s made elsewhere that most people criticizing the book are nontenured assistant “professors of higher education” [sic] as if that addresses any of the detailed concerns raised in critiques of her work published in  rigorous academic journals.

But more troublesome are her  attempts to justify her work as actually supported by  “research”.
In her Kappan article  she cites herself as the source for her claim of much higher rates of child abuse among poor children than children “not in poverty”, even though Payne herself has done no research on the demographics of child abuse.

Several paragraphs later, she refers to  “peer reviewed” research on her website showing statistically significant achievement differences in schools implementing her approach, an astounding distortion of conventional peer review process.  For Education and Class readers who don’t publish in academic journals, “peer review” means that a study has been scrutinized by scholars who do not know the identity of the author,  who are charged with assessing whether an author has complied with expected norms of scholarly inquiry, and who critique the study for the extent to which it builds and extends the body of existing research around a given question.

Payne’s “peer review” consists of nothing more than a brief commentary of some of her research methods by some faculty members (no explanation was given for why these men were chosen) who seem to have no background in school achievement studies and  who clearly knew the source of the work they were reading.

Payne’s reasearch consists of nothing more than a handful of   simple pre-test/post -test studies of single schools.  Students in Intro to Research courses learn the pretty serious limitations of interpreting data from studies that presume that the only thing that has affected achievement in complex schools  (and their communities) over time is the particular teaching methodology of interest to a particular author.

In spite of how often her supporters contrast Payne with “those academics” who lack credibility because of their distance from classrooms, Payne proudly identifies herself as a Ph.D.

So she should know better.

And so should school districts looking for support for teachers who want to learn more about how how best to teach poor children.

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39 Responses to “Ruby Payne, Scholar?”

  1. Colby Says:

    I am currently taking a graduate course on teaching children in poverty. Part of my course requirement was to read the text “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby Payne. Upon reading the text and answer the required corresponding questions, I didn’t think anything of the text. I thought that it made sense, but I really wasn’t looking that far into it. Another part of my course requirement was to further explore Payne, by researching her online and joining a forum or a blog. Upon typing her name into the search bar, thousands of searches came through. Once I started reading about her, I quickly realized that she is not liked by many. At first I couldn’t understand why, but upon further investigation, it made sense. It is because of the way she stereotypes people who live in poverty, as well as the children who are born into poverty. I’m still not sure where I stand with Payne, I want to read more reviews about her. I will say that her book was well written and was easy to follow and understand, but as far as her as a person and how she portrays people of poverty, my opinion is not yet formed. Thank you.

    • janevangalen Says:

      Colby, thanks for commenting. I don’t like or dislike her — I don’t know her at all, and she does seem like a nice person on her videos. I do strongly disagree with her very broad generalizations about kids in poverty, especially when it’s base on so little actual data. She talks a lot about what poor people do and don’t value, so I wonder: What should we infer about the values of someone who has done no revision or elaboration on her work in so many years? If students (whether poor or middle class) just kept repeating the same things over and over and over for years without maturing in their wisdom or knowledge, would we consider that a good thing or a problem?

  2. Amy A Says:

    I think I may be in the same graduate class as the person who commented above. It is my assignment to research Payne and look into criticims written by other scholars and people in the field of education. I agree that I have not formed an opionion on her beliefs that students in poverty should be educated differently than thos that are in the middle class. I do however agree that most of the decisions that policy makers decide will be in the best interest for our students are often targeted for students living in the middle class.

    To be totally honest, I work at a school with only 3% of the stduent population living in poverty and have not had much experience in working with this type of student. I am taking the class to increase my knowledge on best practice and research in this field to make myself a more well-rounded educator.

    • janevangalen Says:

      Hello Amy. Thanks for visiting. Isn’t it curious that someone like Payne who would claim to be talking about “best practice and research” hasn’t changed a single thing in her thinking in almost 20 years? Real scholars, or even classrom teachers would be fired for just repeating the same things over and over, but she makes so much money on her faulty ideas that she can’t afford to do anything else. Why do you think that she as no research on how kids fare in schools with teachers trained in her work? She’s had years and years to do that, or to at least let a real scholar do it for her.

  3. Ana Says:

    I’m a veteran in the field of supporting low income families and more recently, homeless families with young children. I’ve heard both Donna Beegle, PhD and Ruby Payne, PhD speak. Both were thought provoking and helpful in helping society change the way we view poverty. Dr. Beegle’s research was not based on Payne’s work. I know that you wrote this commentary several years ago and you probably did not do to much of your own research before your rant. I’m under the impression that Dr. Beegle was not aware of Ruby Payne when she began her doctoral research into poverty. So few researchers had approached it from Beegle’s lens.

    “Generational Poverty” is real, whether you believe it or not. The issues are far more complicated than you leave an allowance for.

    The reality is, it’s quite criminalized in our society to be poor. I’m certain that both of their efforts, research and data have contributed a lot to shifting the paradigm of the American collective conscious.

    • janevangalen Says:

      Ana, thanks for commenting. I’m sorry that you saw my critique of particular claims that Payne makes about scholarship (a term that has very particular meaning) as a “rant”, which suggests that my concerns are more based in emotion than informed critique of what is meant by the term “scholarship”. I’m also sorry that you’ve turned your comment into more a personal attack on me (that I would write this without doing my research, when I’ve been working with and on behalf of poor kids for about 40 years now).

      “Belief” in generational poverty, as belief in a particular political idea, isn’t really the issue here. Beegle continues to grow and incorporate emerging perspectives into her work. That’s what scholars do. And data that Payne never cites contradicts her central claim that most poor children are poor in large measure because of the attitudes, values, or behavior of their parents.

      Can you point me to the new information or perspectives that Payne has brought into her work in the past 25 years? Or direct me to any actual data that she even claims to have collected herself?

      I mean these questions sincerely. I’m so weary of people coming here to drop a defense of Payne without ever engaging in actual conversation with me or other commenters.


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