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.

Teachers, Ruby Payne, and Moving the Conversation Forward

I wrote last week about Scott McLeod’s post on Dangerously Irrelevant about the large number of districts hiring Ruby Payne to speak to issues of childhood poverty in spite of how little evidence there is for most of her claims.

There was a lively discussion in the comments on Scott’s post, and Alice Mercer, one of the women chiming in there, has continued the conversation on the In Practice blog with the first of what she promises will be a series of posts  on “Why not ‘cure’ poverty instead”.

The conversation threatens to degenerate into camps of “theorists/ practitioners”, as if those lines are completely clean.

But perhaps, in these ongoing discussions,  there’s the chance to move beyond the unfortunate assumption in too much of this discussion that people who critique Payne for ignoring the deeper structural causes of poverty somehow expect teachers to solve problems of poverty themselves or to simply suspend further work in classrooms until all children come to school well fed, toting their photos from Disney World, and dreaming of Harvard.

So, perhaps some of the teachers, scholars, parents, staff people, and the idly curious who read Education and Class could head over there to  join the conversation.

Beware of Ruby Payne

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. )

Bringing All That We Know to the Education of the Poor

There’s too little time for reading or writing during this hectic stretch that I’m in,  but I did sneak away with an iced tea last week to read a very good analysis of Ruby Payne’s work published by  Teachers College Record last November (Formal cite: 2008, Vol 100, Number 11. E access # 14591)

The article, Miseducating Teachers about the Poor:  A Critical Analysis of Ruby Payne’s Claims, by Randy Bomer, Joel Dworin, Laura May, and Peggy Semington is among the most carefully researched, thorough, and detailed analyses of Payne’s writing that I’ve found.

The authors systematically weigh the claims made by Payne against what can readily be found within peer-reviewed research about the causes of poverty and the lives of the poor (their reference list alone runs to five pages), and as others have already observed, Payne comes up very short.

They review research on the lifestyles, values, goals, language, and educational aspirations of the poor.  They find evidence for little of what Payne writes and teaches, and instead cite solid and respected research that directly contradicts much of what she claims.

As I’ve written before here, here, here, and here, this sort of analysis makes it very difficult to understand why schools settle for Payne’s work when there is so little support for her claims, and so little evidence that poor kids are well-served by teachers who have experienced her training.

I’d encourage folks who have dismissed  criticism of Payne’s work as “academic jealousy” (or other personal, rather than intellectual motives) to read this article.

And I’d welcome discussion here — not about the motives of the article authors, but about the research that they cite.

It would be a violation of Fair Use policies to attach the entire article here, but it’s worth the effort to track down a copy.  Readers with access to  academic libraries can find copies there, you can get a PDF (for a fee) from the publisher here , or you might email the lead author, Randy Bomer, at rbomer at mail dot utexas dot edu.

So, are we willing to get past questioning the motives of those who critique her work,  past the “but she seems to make sense” reasoning,  past  anecdotes about ones own family members, and down to the core questions of whether we’re simply settling for Payne rather than bringing all that we know to the education of poor children?

I have no doubt whatsoever that teachers exposed to solid, carefully done research such as that cited in this article can, together, formulate ways to better serve poor children in schools.  Given how this field is developing while Payne’s work stands still, I think that we should be well past the point that we depend so heavily on someone  who just hasn’t done her own homework  to tell us how to do this work.