Ruby Payne, Scholar?

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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41 thoughts on “Ruby Payne, Scholar?

  1. Ana August 17, 2015 / 11:48 am

    I also read the book by Payne for a graduate class. Upon completion of the book I thought it was an ok book. I personally found more useful information from the other required reading Teaching with Poverty in Mind. After reading and looking at different blogs I became aware of the controversy regarding her work. It’s disappointing to find out that she does not have research to back up her information, especially since the book has been published for 20 years. I can see how her book became a tool for school districts and classroom teachers as it is an easy read, and gives insight on what types of experiences children in poverty may have had. As I read her book I was reflecting on how some of her insights fit some of my past students and parents, but not all. I did appreciate the first chapter where she discusses the case studies and gave insight on the other resources that are possibly lacking for children that are living in poverty.

    • janevangalen August 17, 2015 / 12:05 pm

      Ana, thanks for commenting. “Case studies” is a research term. There are agreed upon guidelines in the scholarly community about what can and cannot be called a case study. Payne never claims to have actually collected any of her own data, in spite of promising to say more about her “research” for quite a few years now as her work came under criticism.

      She’s making up stories in that chapter. They are intriguing stories, but they’re entirely made up to illustrate points that she wants to make about poor people. She’s made a great deal of money telling teachers and others what poor people are like. But she’s not doing “case studies” and it’s important to be clear about that.

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