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.

41 thoughts on “Ruby Payne, Scholar?

  1. Katie B. June 3, 2012 / 2:19 pm

    I’m feeling distraught because I just got done paying for a graduate class in education, in the hopes of increasing my knowledge of and sensitivity towards people in poverty. I never considered that the basis for the course would be a book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne, that wasn’t based on data. I have to say the book engaged me and made me question my own beliefs and for that type of introspection I’m always grateful. However, I also feel baffled by my own reaction. If I read this book and didn’t even see how offensive it would be to people who do understand poverty, then what do I really know for certain?

    • Karen January 3, 2013 / 10:15 am

      Katie; I feel similar. When hearing Ruby speak at a district meeting I felt very uneasy with much of what she was saying. Words such as stereo typing and excuses continue to capture my thoughts. It was rather difficult to be sitting listening to what she had to say as I was from a poor upbringing. I could not agree with much of what she would speak about. After the lecture was over our day was done. It wasn’t until my drive home that I began to remove myself from the defensive position I was taking and began to think about her message. In m y opinion, the message is: Know your child, not just the name, but know the environment your child is living in, the beliefs that those families have about trust, education, family, society, etc. Once you sit down and learn about those families you can begin to impact the lives of your students. If only my teachers in school knew that I was punished every time I brought my “homework” home. The saying in my house was school is for school work and Home was for home work (meaning chores!!!) my work was done on the bus to and from school…if they only knew and understood.

      • janevangalen January 3, 2013 / 10:30 am

        Karen, thanks for reading and commenting. I love what you say here about knowing families and knowing the children and what they bring to school. One of my biggest concerns about Payne is that she makes her living taking a huge short cut around knowing the very children in your classroom to instead say “I’m going to tell you who they are. I have no research on this, and haven’t updated my work in decades, but take my word for it: I know the children in your classroom better than you, and their real story is x, y and z”.

        To me, that’s quite opposite of actually knowing the living breathing children in your class and their families.

  2. Joe L. June 21, 2012 / 9:33 am

    I too am taking a graduate class on students and families facing poverty. While reading the book I was amazed at how accurate the information seemed according to my experiences as a teacher. After reading the two course texts I definitely thought that Ruby Payne’s text gave me more insight than the other book. After finding this blog though and reading about the lack of data used I am disappointed. If I and so many others can so readily identify with the information given why hasn’t it been backed up in studies? It has made me question whether I learned as much as I previously thought or if I am in some way perpetuating classism.

  3. J. Basile August 14, 2012 / 11:15 am

    I feel Ruby Payne does a wonderful job helping educators that are dealing with poverty in their classrooms. I don’t agree with stereotypes, but I do not believe that Payne’s intentions were to classify people according to their income. It was to help those of us that are trying to make a difference in education. I enjoyed reading her book.

    • janevangalen August 14, 2012 / 1:22 pm

      Thanks for commenting, J.Basile. So, I’m wondering why you didn’t mention anything at all about anything in the post you commented on?

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