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. J McElwee RN, CSN Says:

    I have read Dr. Payne’s book as part of a class I am taking. As a nurse working in a middle class elementary school that is becoming more and more diversified, I found her book interesting. The book was easy to read and offerered some helpful tips for educators.
    I have read articles from others that offer a different view on the topic. Personally I believe that it is all a matter of how the information and data is interpreted. I will take bits and pieces of information from all that I have read and use what makes sense to me when dealing with the kids and families I will be dealing with.
    In the end, I will continue to do what is best for the children regardless of their status is society.

  2. OregonTeacher Says:

    I agree with the debate presented here. Clearly the biggest flaw in Payne’s work is the lack of hard data to back up her claims. However, I see students everyday that Payne describes, so as a teacher I can relate. I believe that is why so many educational professionals buy into her framework. It reinforces what teachers see “in the trenches.” Her work provides this sense of “I’ve been there. I understand how difficult teaching in adverse conditions can be.” It provides emotional validation.

    Some of her suggestions for teaching and classroom structure are just “what good teachers do”, regardless of the SES of the students. To teachers who are marginal or ineffective to begin with it can provide strategies to help them. These teachers may see her methods as the “aha!” moment.

  3. David Martin Says:

    I have a couple books that I am currently studying on poverty, the one by Payne has opened my eyes to quite a few things that are happening in my classroom. Personally, it has changed the way I see certain students; and I now I have a better understsanding of the reasons behind their behavior. Since reading the book, I have established a better working repore with these students and feel our teacher/studentt relationship has strengthen.These students do come from a low income lifestyle and many of the behaviors that Payne emphasizes can be seen in these students. Will this book offer teachers a go-to handbook that can be used daily?…Maybe not, but it did offer some insights on behaviors and lack of resources that students of poverty represent.


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