Beware outside consultants? – Part 2, Ruby Payne

As America becomes increasingly diverse, many school districts are experiencing changes in their traditional student populations. When districts have significant increases in the number of students of color and/or students in poverty, they often try to increase the cultural competence of their teaching and administrative staff. And that means that many of them turn to Dr. Ruby Payne. Dr. Payne’s seminal book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, has sold over a million copies and has resulted in many regarding her as an expert on poverty.

Many academics (and others) have expressed grave concerns about Payne’s work, however. For example, here is an excerpt from a 2006 article in Teachers College Record by Dr. Paul Gorski (now an Assistant Professor at George Mason University):

A casual flip-through of A Framework uncovers dozens of deficit-laden statements. According to Payne (2001), people in poverty are bad parents: “The typical pattern in poverty for discipline is to verbally chastise the child, or physically beat the child, then forgive and feed him/her” (p. 37). They are also criminals:  “Also, individuals in poverty are seldom going to call the police, for two reasons: First the police may be looking for them. . . . ” (pp. 37-38). They are disloyal: “Allegiances may change overnight; favoritism is a way of life” (p. 74). They are violent and “on the streets”: “If students in poverty don’t know how to fight physically, they are going to be in danger on the streets” (p. 100). And, according to Payne, people in poverty are unmotivated addicts: “And for some, alcoholism, laziness, lack of motivation, drug addition, etc., in effect make the choices for the individual” (p. 148). Although research indicates some differences in child discipline practices and levels of day-to-day physical violence between economically deprived communities and middle or upper class communities, the fact remains that most people in poverty are responsible, hard working, drug and alcohol free, and not “on the streets” (a phrase that may also cycle the stereotype that all poor people live in urban communities, when many live in rural communities). These people – the average, hard working, employed, drug free people in poverty – are largely invisible in A Framework and Payne’s other books.

And here’s an excerpt from another 2006 article in Teachers College Record, this one by Drs. Jennifer Ng, Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas, and John Rury, Professor at DePaul University:

[In Payne's] descriptive scenarios, the poor are generally depicted as having a weak work ethic, little sense of internal discipline or future orientation, and leading lives characterized to one extent or another by disorder and violence. In making these characterizations, Payne seems to be unaware of the many studies dating from the late 1960s that challenged the culture of poverty thesis, in many instances directly testing the extent to which traits such as these were more prevalent among the poor than other groups. By and large, these studies found that such characteristics were not more likely to be evident in poor individuals or households. Indeed, people in poverty valued work, saving money, behaving properly, maintaining stable families, and a number of other “middle-class” attributes as much as their counterparts in higher social and economic strata. These results, moreover, held across groups with experiences of differing duration in poverty and across racial and ethnic lines (Roach & Gursslin, 1967; Irelan, Moles, & O’Shea, 1969; Coward, Feagin, & Williams, 1974; Davidson & Gaitz, 1974; Abell & Lyon, 1979; Carmon, 1985; Jones & Luo, 1999). . . . Most educators . . . are unfamiliar with the extensive research literature on poverty and its effects on children, and if Payne’s citations seem to support their own views about the poor, they would hardly be in a position to challenge the interpretation of research that Payne offers. If they are predisposed to believing that the poor are lazy and impulsive as well as unreliable and temperamental, they are more likely to agree with Payne’s analysis than to question it. In short, Payne may be popular simply because she echoes commonplace assumptions about why some individuals appear to succeed in American society while others do not.

And here’s what may be the only criticism of a famous educational consultant by a 14–year-old:

Is this how schools should be spending their scarce professional development time and monies?

So, like my post yesterday about Dr. Willard Daggett, the information gathered for this post raises some important questions.

First, should districts be spending their monies on a consultant whose work has been accused of being riddled with hundreds of unproven assertions? Whose emphasis on students’ need to change is allegedly so reductionist that it basically ignores the school, neighborhood, societal, political, and other contextual factors that influence the life success of students in poverty? 

If the poor are poor simply because they do not know how to behave as if they were not poor, then the middle class and the wealthy should not be taxed to provide public assistance, public health, public schooling, or a public sphere in which the poor might participate. According to such a perspective, neither structural inequality, nor public policy, nor barriers to good jobs, nor lack of money cause the plight of the poor; they just don't have the right story structure, or tone of voice, or register, or cognitive strategies. (Bomer, Dworin, May, & Semingson, 2008)

Who self-describes her foundational work as “the findings of a 30-year longitudinal case study of one neighborhood of poverty” when that actually means that “her expertise on poverty resulted primarily from being married for over 30 years to her husband, Frank, who grew up in ‘situational’ (or temporary) poverty, but lived for several years with others who were in ‘generational’ (or long-term) poverty” (Gorski, 2006; Payne, 1995)? Whose seminal book was admittedly inspired by financial "spirit guides" and written in a single week so that she might “fulfill her dream of ‘a life without financial constraints?’" (Bohn, 2007; Tough, 2007).

Second, 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?

This is important, not trivial, stuff. As Bomer et al. (2008) note:

It is well-established . . . that teacher beliefs have an impact on the ways they teach and on their students’ learning (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996; Nespor, 1987). Since teachers do make decisions and plans on the basis of their beliefs or conceptualizations of their students, students' daily lives are strongly affected by the influences on their teachers' thinking. We have demonstrated through our analysis that teachers may be misinformed by Payne's claims. Poverty in Payne's work is marked only as a negative, only as a divergence from a middle-class norm, and students who are "of poverty" need to be fixed. This way of regarding the children of poor parents has predictable and undesirable consequences in US education (Brophy & Good, 1974; Rist, 1970; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). As a consequence of low teacher expectations, poor students are more likely to be in lower tracks or lower ability groups (Ansalone, 2001, 2003; Connor & Boskin, 2001; Gamoran & Berends, 1987; Oakes, 1985), and their educational experience is more often dominated by rote drill and practice (Anyon, 1980, 1997; Dudley-Marling & Paugh, 2005; Moll, 1988; Moll & Ruiz, 2002; Valenzuela, 1999).

How accountable should we be holding outside consultants (and the people who hire them)?

113 Responses to “Beware outside consultants? – Part 2, Ruby Payne”

  1. Thank you for this information. I’m saving the bookmarks and printing out the information for when Dr. Payne comes back in favor at my school or district.

    Are you familiar with “Capturing Kids Hearts”? This is a truly scary group. Beyond costing us money I’m afraid it might cost us the lives of children.

    My district has been “Strongly” encouraging teachers to go on retreats this cult like group has. I was successful in avoiding that by citing health reasons. I have potentially deadly food allergies and the thought of being lock in this place with no alternatives for getting safe food was scary.

    I did take the 3 day course offered in district to get them off my back. I came away scared and furious. The cult like tactics scared me.

    They include:
    1. Charismatic Leader who is benevolent and all knowing

    2. The assertion that if the program doesn’t work in your school it is because you didn’t follow the leader’s edicts to the letter. (For fun I went through the manual and wrote down the names of the programs they stole piecemeal from by the different concepts)

    3. The repeated use of key phrases like “I affirm you”

    4. Forcing participants to take personality test and reveal the results to the group, so we could be “helped”.

    5. The attempt to shame me when I refused to participate in the personality tests and group sessions. I noticed after I objected more people were taking bathroom breaks during this time.

    What scared me came on the 2nd and 3rd days. They presented video “testimonies” of students that had been “saved” by the program.

    1. A girl that was using drugs was encouraged by her group leader to go cold turkey over the weekend. They actually admitted this group leader had no medical background and no information other than the child’s statements about what she was doing. Going cold turkey with out medical supervision could have been life threatening depending on the type and amounts of drugs being used. The girl also stated her parents knew nothing about the drug use or her going cold turkey.

    2. A girl who as a grade schooler witnessed her father’s brutal suicide. She was “cured” of her feelings of depression by the “affirmations” of her group leader and members of the group. Again no mention of notifying her Mother, or getting her further help.

    Currently I’m trying to get the State of Texas Medical Board and Education Agency to investigate this group. I’m also working to get legislation past that would forbid districts and school from requiring Staff development that includes any type of physiological or personality test. I’m hoping this would include the test we took in Ruby Payne Training.

  2. Thanks for the great and thought-inspiring post. I actually used Ruby Payne’s articles in some of the college courses I taught. I appreciated her desire to “level the playing field” for lower income students. I then began to read the critiques of Paul Gorski, who I also respect and used in my courses. He offered some perspectives that I just did not see.

    This point leads to my “aha” regarding professional development. There has been some discussion in recent Blogs and Tweets about the use of textbooks. My concern is that textbooks are written by one, possibly two or three at the most, authors. So even though they are often “fact” based, it is the author who selectively chooses which facts to include. 21st century technologies permit for a mash-up of knowledge, facts, opinions, videos, podcasts from a variety of sources. In addition, 21st century pedagogy permits the active reflection and sharing of this material. The learner is not the passive recipient of content but gets to chew up it slowly, swallowing what tastes good and spitting out what does not. By sharing one’s perspectives with the rest of the learning communities, collaborative, collective, and synergistic learning results. In my case, Paul Gorski and this Blog provided with additional, eye-opening perspectives about Payne’s work.

    This post has sparked me to start advocating for the same type of pedagogy for professional development. So how should K12 professional development be implemented? Experts opinions are valuable – they have devoted much of their professional lives developing their expertise, but I believe the time of spending three days with one consultant is archaic and so 20th century! There has been criticism that the schools are doing a great job preparing students for the industrial age. The same criticism can be targeted at the methods in the training and developing of educators.

    21st century professional development can be provided through a variety of consultants along with the reactions, commentary, and opinions of the participating educators. It can and should include a mash-up of live streaming via ustream, chat-based presentations via Elluminate or Adobe Connect, and Moodle-based mini-courses. If we want educators to add to the collective advancement of the field of education, we need to give them the opportunity, tools, methods, and venue to do so.

    • 21st century professional development should be subject based. Hopefully taught by masters in the field, whether they are educators or not. It is not an economical use of our time, especially in the present state of the world where most folks have little to NO free time,to have PD’s that do not assist an individual teacher’s needs, be them pedagogical, technological, or in their field. Teachers need time to investigate books, websites, and talk with other teachers about the areas they are in need of tweeking. It is an uneconomical use of our time to listen to someone talk about eductaion in a broad way, often not in touch with your school or specific disicpline, who is there only because a district leader thinks that person has all the answers.
      Ruby Payne’s name and book have made it into my school. I hope she never gets invited to speak here.

  3. Never had Ruby Payne, but we did have a whole slew of cultural diversity trainers through a couple years ago. There were two types, locals who I liked, and one that seemed to have a national name (and had so many folks at her talk that it was held in a local college student union meeting room) that I was not as crazy about.

    What I liked about the locals is that they knew our populations and worked with them. The experts on SE Asian populations were Hmong, and Mien, and had also studied those population professionally. The information conveyed was both basic (differences in family name conventions between Hmong and Mien)to critical (the importance of shamanistic rituals and respecting those beliefs). The speaker on Mexican/Latin American culture had some good academic stuff on the different cultural cachet of languages and how those social values affect language loss, acquisition, and self-worth.

    The one I wasn’t as crazy about came from one of the Carolinas. She was African American and seemed to be avoiding taking a deficit approach, either about students or teachers. I think the problem was she seemed to be taking what I’ll call the “loaves and fishes” approach. If you belief in the kids, they will succeed. The inaccuracy I spotted in her talk was minor (use of % on Dale’s Cone of Knowledge — I don’t like to blame speakers for this because it is SO prevalent (the error crept into text form in the 1950s), and the error of it is not widely known. She had one other citation that I haven’t been able to check out, but sounded empirically off to me. It was about a study in Daly City, CA (south of San Francisco) in the 1960s where teachers were given information about students suggesting how well they could perform (“I know you’ll never believe it, but that blighter is GIFTED!”) and voila, students began to perform to the level their teacher were told to expect even if it had no relation to their IQ. Takeaway, children will perform to the level you expect of them. I’m sorry, but if I have a fourth grader that can’t decode, and has a processing disorder, my thinking they are a genius will not have them reading by the end of the semester. If I had enough time I’dve looked up the study to see what it really says.
    The district is on another equity push because statewide there is consternation about achievement gaps in the scores of blacks and Latinos. Some co-workers went to those, and based on that second-hand sharing, it sounds like the approach is more in line with reality: equity and culturally responsive teaching requires lots of work, and is a very complex and nuanced process (no magic bullets). My district tends to prefer local talent. Since we are in the capitol of one of the larger states, there are lots of former Dept of Ed types hanging around. The one “name” we have come in regularly in my district is Sylvia Alvarez who has no web presence that I can discern. She is an educator (administrator) from the LA area, and specializes in telling you how to analyze your school’s test scores to “target interventions” to meet AYP goals. We’re due to have a school in-service with her in January, but I’ve seen her two times already at my old school site. She’s big on “strategic kids”, “power standards”, deconstructing the standard, and the test questions.

    My worst, and most expensive consultant, worked only at my school site to provide “support” for our school improvement. She did demo lessons (hence her high price tag), then watched us teach one of “her” lessons and gave feed back. She had specialized in “classroom management” but switched over to school improvement with NCLB. Her material was still 85% on classroom management, so I spent a lot of time trying to re-direct her focus on learning. She had some interesting techniques, but seemed to avoid doing a lot of work,and tried to “steal” forms we made as part of our work with her potentially for use in her copyrighted manual. This led to one teacher telling her to get the hell out of his class and never return. She had a unique intellectual property argument saying the form was based on her “ideas” which we all know, cannot be copyrighted.

  4. I am not sure that any educator has all of the answers, nor that we should buy lock stock and barrel into any philosophy. I think there are merits to using the International Center and Ruby Payne’s organization Aha Processes in your district wide professional development. If you provide your staff time to discuss the theories laid out by these two organizations you can build a common language and a common philosophy. This may be one in agreement with or in conflict with those of the so-called experts.
    Every organization needs to continuously re-examine its own beliefs and practices and establish not only a shared language within the organization, but shared beliefs. Just as in an earlier post I cited the need for individuals like Kohn, I think there is also a need for Ruby Payne and Willard Dagget. They provide us with talking points.
    There are obviously some truths in what these two educational experts have to say, but as is often the case, they have also sought to generalize in some areas to reach a wider audience and thus market their materials. It is hard to argue that there is not a great deal of merit to making activities more rigorous (Bloom’s Taxonomy) and relevant for students. We know we need to shift towards engaging students in the use of technology in their learning. We also know that relationships are key to motivating students. Packaging these concepts is what is novel about the work done by the International Center.

  5. I pointed out Ruby Payne in my comment in Part 1. I went and dug out the materials they gave me and it’s laughable (in a sad, sad way) that people can believe what they’re shoveling.

    As I said in the last comment though, I think teachers buy into it because it excuses us for our failures. It’s a lot easier to blame a culture of poverty rather than our poor teaching.

    As a teacher, the thing that frustrates me the most is that nobody ever asks us what we want for PD. We just get it dropped on us two days before school starts and that’s our theme or whatever for the year.

    Also as a teacher, I think that most teachers feel that frustration so I don’t get why we don’t get that students feel the same frustration when their curriculum is just dropped on them too.

    Ok. Just had to vent.

  6. JYP, I’m going to push back in the gentlest way possible. If a poor child is failing is it solely due to bad teachers? What about studies about brain development in poor children? If you are growing up in a poor neighborhood, even if your family is working, etc. wouldn’t seeing violence among your neighbors, etc. have an effect on you? This isn’t every child, but based on teaching where I do for as long as I have, it’s a significant portion of the students. How to we address these issues in a way that doesn’t involve a deficit approach which is what Payne is proposing?

  7. There is absolutely no evidence that low-income children see or experience more violence than wealthy children. The argument you’ve put together to “push back” is simply an illustration of the false stereotypes around which we make harmful decisions about how to treat young people.

    We should address the violence that ALL children are experiencing instead of pretending that this is a “poor people” problem.

    The best possible thing we can do for low-income students is to fight for their basic human rights, such as equitable access to fully-equipped schools, healthcare, safe and affordable housing, and the sorts of things their wealthier peers take for granted.

    No, it’s definitely not all or even mostly on the teachers, although schools with high percentages of low-income students tend to have the least experienced teachers and the biggest proportion of teachers teaching at least some classes outside of their certification subjects. (This is not a knock on the teachers, but a knock on the way we, as a society, choose to organize our schools, which is archaic and oppressive.)

    So, the only way to address these issues without falling into the “deficit” model is to focus first of all on the injustices experienced by low-income students instead of trying to “fix” low-income students.


  8. @Paul,
    I think you should look at the research again. There are plenty of studies that have cited a correlation between income and violence. Much of it pertains to gang activity amongst teens of poverty.

  9. A. Mercer–

    You’re falling into a common educational problem that doesn’t exist in other fields. To call Ruby Payne’s ideas a “theory” is a gross misunderstanding of what a theory is. A theory is something that has been supported through research over the course of years and years. Gravity is a theory. Ruby Payne’s model has been DISPROVEN over the course of years and years. Her central model, the culture of poverty idea, was shown in the early 1970s to be completely false–there is no such thing as a singular, predictable “culture” or “mindset” of poverty. So I would say no, it’s not fine to further enrich somebody by using her work when it has been proven to be based on fallacy over the course of thirty years. People in other fields would never imagine doing this. Could you imagine your doctor prescribing medication that has been proven to be ineffective for over thirty years? Could you imagine an engineer building a house based on a technique that has been shown not to work over the course of thirty years? Of course not. So why do we, in education, do this over and over and over?

    How can we claim to be about data-driven decision making when we continue to use models that go against every ounce of data we have? (And this is exactly what Payne’s model does.)

    My sense is that people like Payne’s model because it makes them comfortable, because it’s premised on the idea that we have to fix poor people instead of fixing systems that privilege people who are already privileged at the expense of low-income people (as well as people of color, etc.). And it draws on stereotypes into which people have already bought: poor person as lazy, poor person as criminal, etc. People who aren’t poor like this because it makes us believe that we aren’t the problem, that we achieved what we achieved through hard work and not on the backs of people less privileged than ourselves.

    So no, it’s not OK to bring inaccurate, oppressive models into our schools as long as we prepare people for it. Why would we do that instead of bringing in accurate, anti-oppressive models? You’re certainly right that no single model or approach can cover everything. But some models ARE based on reality and data and research and some–Payne’s work–are based on somebody’s individual whims and misunderstandings.

    I think one of our biggest problems in education is a sort of anti-intellectualism. I’ll use Payne’s work because the district next door is using it. I won’t look into her assertions. I won’t consider other models. I certainly won’t ask the low-income communities around the school. I’ll just use it because it’s convenient and makes me comfortable.


  10. David,

    I’ve looked at the research quite carefully. I’ve just written about this, in fact.

    It’s not that I have to revisit the research, but that we have to revisit what we mean by “violence.”

    I walk into a convenience store with a knife and steal $100. Violent crime, right?

    I am the CEO of a big tobacco company and lie for decades about the effects of nicotine. Violent crime?

    I work for a company that dumps toxic waste into waterways that flow right into poor neighborhoods, increasing stark gaps in asthma and other diseases. Violent crime?

    In addition, the violence in poor communities is more visible to us because it’s highlighted on TV and often it’s out in the open. That doesn’t mean that a poor community is more violent. In fact, all of these stereotypes are just about the angle at which one looks.

    Another common stereotype is that low-income parents are neglectful–another form of “violence.” But I’ve done work at $45,000 per year boarding schools where wealthier parents send their kids so that somebody else will parent them–and this isn’t considered, in the mainstream psyche, either neglectful or violent.

    I’ve looked at the research and for the most part reject the narrow ways in which it defines “violence”–a way that, again, protects the privileged at the expense of the disadvantaged through deficit ideology. When you broaden that scope to make it broader and more complete, the story is completely different.


  11. Just curious about the comments. Y’all have seemed to do a lot of “reading” and “researching” but have any of you actually LIVED in poverty for ANY length of time? Have any of you actually TAUGHT in a Title I school or district with over 75% free and reduced lunches? (and that’s from the people who actually bother to fill out the forms.) How would you answer an eighth grader who says “Why do I need to go to college? My mama sits on the couch and watches TV and she gets a fat check every month? I’ll just do the same.”

    See, I’m aware that RP might not have all the answers, but one thing she does have going for her is a lack of “academic” credentials. I don’t know of anything most teachers in the trenches of impoverished schools despise much more than ivory tower academics from universities who haven’t ever taught a class under NCLB constraints or who haven’t taught a class at all in years.

    I forget who it was that said it, but he was right when he said, “the very rich are different than us.” I’ve reread the post and reread the comments and I don’t see anyone offering any solutions except “let’s fix poverty!” Well, that sounds like a great idea . . . why don’t we convince Congress to take that $350 billion and spread it out among the American people instead of letting banks off the hook? It’d “fix” poverty for a little while at least and then we could see if “lack of money” is the only thing that keeps people in poverty.

    • I have taught in a county for 14 years that has a child poverty rate of 22.1%. 37% of the children start school without adequate language, literacy, social or emotional skills. 223 children are indentified as homeless in my school district and 574 are at risk of being homeless. I do NOT believe that children living in poverty are innately less intelligent than middle-class students. I do believe that it is harder to learn when you have no bed to sleep in, you go to sleep hungry, your clothes are not clean, and you change schools frequently because of your guardian’s lack of financial stability. I agree that it would be wonderful to be able to see if “lack of money” is the only thing that keeps people in poverty or keeps children from achieving their full potential. I do know that before I read Payne’s book and learned the supposed hidden rules of poverty, I was able to effectively teach, inspire, and discipline hundreds of impoverished students.

  12. RYP: Did I say Ruby Payne had a theory RYP? Did I say she was right? I was questioning what you said, so I’m asking you again, what did you mean when you said this:

    “As I said in the last comment though, I think teachers buy into it because it excuses us for our failures. It’s a lot easier to blame a culture of poverty rather than our poor teaching.”

    Is the failure of poor students due solely to bad teachers, poor teaching practices, or something else?

    Paul, I can’t even take what you are saying seriously, so I won’t.

  13. Actually Paul, I like you first comment, the second one is where you lost me.

  14. I spent the past five years as an administrator in a school with a very high poverty rate. It is not the inner city but actually in the southern most point of Iowa.
    I realize that we have different perspectives as we each come with our own background experiences. When I speak of violence, I am specifically speaking of child on child, or guardian on child. I come from a very poor home myself, although I can not say suffered from abuse. With the economic downturn we will see more and more violence in homes. When resources are scarce, emotional strains run high.
    To compare a child whose parent is an executive in a tobacco company to one of the children whose parents prostitute themselves for drugs of food and think that they on an equal playing ground in our schools is unfair. Poor children are not less intelligent, but come with much different experiences. To place all children of poverty in one pidgeon hole is not fair at all, but to observe trends of behavior and encourage an understanding of what a child might be dealing with at home is much needed in our schools. The idea is to alert you to the fact that there are nonverbal messages you are getting due to your own past experiences that may be misconstrued as the sender has a different background.
    I agree that violence is not limited to families in poverty. We all come with past experiences which contribute to and limit our ability to focus on new learning. I guess my point is that to ignore common characteristics of students in specific economic or cultural upbringing is to ignore data which can be useful towards serving those students.

  15. @David: I guess the question is what do we do with that data? Do we use it as an excuse, or try to help them? What is our responsibility as professionals? I don’t like the deficit theory of Payne’s because it makes it sound like it’s their fault. OTOH, I can’t work miracles. I have to try, I have to be a professional, but I have be grounded in reality.

    The interesting thing is that our African American parents group at the school is doing a project documenting abandoned/trashed/foreclosed homes and their effect on the neighborhood (negative). They want to let the powers that be know this is a problem, but they are also doing it to educate the community on the problem. They seem to feel that there is a solution both from the community and from the government.

    They are also starting to work with some of the AA students who are really behind in our school, to try to take some responsibility for that, but let’s face it, it’s EVERYONES “problem” to solve not just theirs, not just ours as educators, but EVERYONE.

  16. @ Mr. Mercer

    You say, “I don’t like the deficit theory of Payne’s because it makes it sound like it’s their fault.” Well, it is their fault.

    As brutal as this may sound, know that it comes from a heart of gold. I’ve just experienced too much and seen too much to think otherwise. See I grew up in poverty and, by choice, I’ve taught in high poverty schools my entire career. The ONLY reason I’ve made it as far as I have is a great mama who pushed me to do things she did not understand herself, like go to honors classes and later on, college. She had the help of some great teachers who I really felt cared about me. Ultimately though, I had to decide for myself to break out of the mold.

    Now, I hear many voices say that “poverty is society’s fault.” That may very well be, but what is also society’s fault is the continuation of a system that rewards absentee fathers and out of wedlock children. I’m not knocking welfare per se. This pot refuses to call any kettle black, but unless we make it vastly more uncomfortable for people to remain in poverty than to climb upward, we will never get anywhere.

    What do we do with children and parents who do not WANT education? No education means oftentimes working at McDonalds or drawing a welfare check. Which is easier? It is human nature to seek the path of least resistance, poor or rich.

    I think the problem that I’m seeing people have with RP is she calls a spade a spade and not a diamond. I don’t think she is a messiah or anything, but empirically, I’ve seen that her ideas have merit.

  17. Thanks for the sex change Shannon ;-).

    Call me sentimental, but I just can’t blame that six year old for having the “stupidity” to be born in a home where his dad was hauled off to prison for the rest of his life, and his mom was addicted to meth.

    Frankly, the funny part is that whenever I have asked parents and students what educational goals do you have, they almost ALWAYS want their kids to go to college, and this from schools that are on whole school free lunch. They may not know what they need to do to get their kids to college (my disagreement with Paul and RYP), BUT they have the same dreams I do for my son. That must be worth something?

    Alice Mercer

  18. Hey all I think Dave had a good point about generalizing. Not all poor folks are the same, behave the same. I worry though in how that is approached. These are the kids who may opt to go to charters, etc. so they are leaving their neighborhood schools which is good for them, but that still doesn’t address their peers who may have parents that are not likely to do that, and to work with teachers, etc. We can pat ourselves on the back about how great those kids in charters are doing (, but what about those left behind?

  19. I’m coming to this conversation late (it IS Christmas break, after all!), but as a longtime critic of Ruby Payne (and an admirer of Paul Gorski for being an even earlier and far more insightful critic than me) it’s certainly an engaging one.

    I’m also coming to it after a nineteen year community organizing career that has preceded my newer career (five years and counting) as a teacher in Sacramento’s largest inner-city high school.

    I agree that the most effective long-term strategy for dealing with many of the problems facing low-income communities (and the children who live in them) is to organize for better housing, employment, health, etc.). I would also add that schools and their staff should work as partners with parents and other local neighborhood institutions to push for those changes.

    At the same time, though, I don’t necessarily believe that this kind of strategy is the only avenue to pursue, just as I don’t believe that most teachers are attracted to Ruby Payne’s deficit model because it’s “comfortable.”

    I believe that there is much that can be done day-and-day-out in the classroom by teachers. And that many of these teachers are desperate to learn any kind of instructional strategies and classroom management tactics that they can apply effectively to respond to the many challenging situations that can be found in inner-city schools.

    Saul Alinsky, the father of modern-day community organizing and the founder of the organization that I worked for during my organizing career, once said, “The price of criticism is a constructive alternative.”

    I believe that those of us who are critics of Ruby Payne need to do a far better job of offering constructive alternatives that teachers can use today and tomorrow — right in their classroom — if we want more to see the fallacies of Payne’s approach.

    Larry Ferlazzo

  20. In response to what do we do with the data, I would suggest we use the data to choose appropriate strategies for our students. In my past school we understood that most, but not all, of our students of poverty had a much smaller vocabulary than some of our other students. We used that knowledge to identify essential vocabulary and front loaded it in our lessons. This is a strategy that works for all students, but is particularly effective for students who have not had the opportunity to build a wide vocabulary through diverse life experiences or those who use a smaller vocabulary in their home environment.
    We also noted that many of the children in our district did not have a positive male presence in their homes which led to efforts to provide positive male role models.
    This is no different realizing that children currently in high school do not go home after school to Gilligan’s Island, Leave It to Beaver, Eight is Enough and who watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights with their families. Instead they can choose from either Dr. Phil or Oprah after school and watch Desperate House Wives on Sunday nights. Do all students fit into this generalization, of course not. The point is we use the data, the models, the information to aid us in meeting our students’ needs.
    I agree that far too often these things have been used by some as excuses. I would contend ignoring their partial validity is just as unprofessional as using them as excuses for a lack of our success in the classroom. I don’t condemn all teachers just as I don’t pigeon hole all students of color or of low economic origins into a category of automatic deficiency. I will, however, point out that there are teachers out there that truly do believe that students of poverty are doomed to lower achievement. I have met them and confronted them with Marzano’s work indicating that having a highly effective teacher in the classroom has a much higher effect size than parental support.
    Teachers who are looking for answers are usually easily distinguishable from those who are making excuses. Those making excuses should be confronted by their peers and administrators. Students will only achieve if we believe.

  21. Dave, you are right but we can just “believe”. It looks like you were taking the next step which is figuring out what to do.

    Larry, thanks for chiming in. JYP, I was not “pushing back” because I agree with Ruby Payne, I was doing it to try to generate some constructive alternatives. Paul, the same goes to you. You are a doctor, I assume at a college or university. No one in my position will take you seriously until you have a reasonable, understandable alternative. What you’ve presented will not fly as that (although they may be great ideas, and I happen to concur with many of them). I would like to see you more effective. I do this to help because I believe you can make me a better, more effective teacher, not Ruby Payne. Help me achieve, give me something to believe in.

  22. This is exactly what I’m talking about… the underlying problem in education.

    The person above assumes that because somebody is informed about the class and poverty, this makes them an ivory tower academic. Let me tell you something: there are multiple trenches. I have been a lifetime activist. I have taken a physical pounding. Half of my family comes from poverty–the Appalachian variety. But because I am also familiar with the theory, that would give somebody cause to suggest that all I have is theory. This ONLY happens in education. And teachers ought to be offended by this nonsense. This is the de-professionalization of educators at its worst: the idea that a practicing teacher can’t also be familiar with facts and theory. The same would never be said of a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer.

    And to let you, Payne has a doctorate. To say that what she has going for her is that she doesn’t come from academia is nonsense. She IS a product of academia. And she has NEVER worked in a high-poverty school.

    Larry–many folks, including me, have written pieces that offer alternatives to Payne’s work and offer clear ideas that are based on research-based best practice. I offer virtually all of my resources free of charge on my web site so that people can use them without buying a book or hiring me to come in and do a workshop. But a lot of people dismiss these alternative views because they call on serious changes in schools and school systems, as well as society.

    Bottom line: we might be able to decrease the achievement gap through some of these pedagogical strategies, but these improvements will mean little if we don’t also address the grave inequities in our schools–those that are oppressing teachers in high-poverty schools as well as the students in those schools.


  23. @ Ms. Alice, Crap! I hate it when I do that! I’m a guy and if I don’t put that down, with a name like Shannon, I’m automatically assumed to be a girl. I’ve never forgiven Mama for the fact that I never got to have a BLUE bicycle tag.

    Now, @ Mr. Gorski, I’m “the person above” and you raise a couple of points that I like to address. First, you say “This is the de-professionalization of educators at its worst: the idea that a practicing teacher can’t also be familiar with facts and theory. The same would never be said of a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer.”

    That is enough to drive me to drink right there. The reason is, who regulates and sets most policy for doctors and lawyers? OTHER DOCTORS AND OTHER LAWYERS! Not teachers. The people who tell us how to do our jobs, the people who say “get these kids to pass this test or you are a loser as a teacher”, those people are POLITICIANS. For the most part, their experience with a classroom dates to when they were in school and guess what, things have changed in 20 to 30 years. Kills me. Absolutely KILLS ME!

    Now, about “because somebody is informed about the class and poverty, this makes them an ivory tower academic. Let me tell you something: there are multiple trenches. I have been a lifetime activist. I have taken a physical pounding.”

    Well, yes, there are multiple trenches and I appreciate your family being from Appalachia. Mama’s side is from the mountains around Kingsport, TN. We call before we ride up the holler to their homes. It’s a lot safer that way. They don’t like strangers. But, being a lifetime activist doesn’t necessarily qualify you to make judgments on teachers. Did you work in the communities where you were an activist? Did you teach in the schools? Did you live in the community? OR did you go into the community, do what you could, and then go back to the suburbs?

    I’m not trying to be mean. I’m not trying to be obtuse. REALLY, I’m not. I’m just saying, as a plain ordinary librarian in a plain ordinary rural school on the backside of BFE, but I know my faculty and the faculties I’ve worked with. They are, for the most part, great people who are dedicated to the extreme. They didn’t get into this field to get rich. But I stand by my statement about ivory towers because if you came into my school and uttered the phrase “we might be able to decrease the achievement gap through some of these pedagogical strategies,” you would see the reptilian haze glaze over the eyes of 85% of my colleagues. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m saying it’s what would happen.

  24. This whole issue irks me. I believe this issue is much larger than education and to look at the issue of poverty and fixing poverty through education is like trying to put out the forest fire by extinguishing the match. The real issue is privilege. Education is just a weapon in that war.

    Why are some people poor? If you have wealthy people you have to have poor people. Wealth is driven by greed. When you are poor the cards are stacked against you. Lack of resources means lack of competitive edge which means more poverty. Behind every great fortune is an even greater crime.

    Unless our government decides to truly “spread the wealth around” I only see one other alternative. The poor, which make up a far greater number in the population than the rich, need to stop valuing that which gives value to the assets the rich own. We have to stop buying into this belief that cash is king and capitalism works. We the poor and lower middle class are the masses. We need to rise up and realize that the American Dream is a harmful trap conjured up to lure the masses into the exploitive arms of the aristocracy.

  25. Carl,
    Your call for communism is a noble one, but look at the results from that movement. Another establishment of class and far from an equal distribution of wealth.
    I still feel education is the key to solving this social problem. I also agree with Paul that a good place to start is to ensure that we provide incentives for our best teachers to teach in our most challenging schools. After all, teachers are people too, and have families of their own. They want what is best for their children, and they want a life outside of school.

  26. I would like to bring the conversation back to some questions from the original post. Should we be accountable for the things presented to staff during professional development time. I think the answer to this is yes. That is my role while serving on the building and district professional development committee. I think the use of “experts” can only be effective if time is alloted to allow staff to discuss what they heard. They need time to establish a shared meaning. I see all too often an expert come in and due to their cost, little if any time is allotted to digest and make sense of what they have to say. Then we ask teachers to go back to their classrooms and without any further guidance become effective users of the new strategy. Peer coaching models are out there which allow teachers to aid eachother in honing their skills. I see my role as an administrator as ensuring the staff have the time to engage in these types of peer coaching activities. I make a point to substitute for a teacher to allow them time to observe another teacher. I have often tried to cram too much into one of our afternoon meetings and know this as I collect feedback from staff following each inservice. The feedback is not always positive and although it hurts me to get those negative comments, I have found that using them has improved the quality of the professional development activities we have engaged in.
    In Iowa, each teacher has established their own professional development plan and I see my job as providing the teacher the time and the other resources they need to make progress towards the goals they have set for themselves. We sit down and discuss their strengths and areas in need of growth. I see myself more as a coach. I have teachers in my building that are better teachers in many aspects of our profession than I could ever be. Just like most professional coaches were not nearly as good of players as those they are coaching.
    As many have commented above on those of academia and living in the ivory towers, we can’t forget they have a very important role to play. I am not really sure why the k-12 system seems so critical of those who have chosen that line of work. We need to stop criticizing them and start communicating with them more effectively. They are not all snobs who think that we are beneath them. I have had many really great professors that seriously impacted my life. Several of my college professors decided to go that route as they felt they could do more for more students by influencing those entering the profession.
    Research is important and I am glad there are those who spend a good deal of their life doing it. I think the information they provide is useful and if we all continuously strive to better ourselves as learners, we will be setting great examples for our students.
    I read alot as that is what I enjoy doing. I am not going to apologize for that nor do I claim to be a better educator just because I am well read. I also spend a good deal of time reflecting with others on what I have read and that is what has made me a better educator. I have not become a pure disciple of any of those whose works I have read, although Peter Senge is one of my personal favorites, but I think even those I disagree with have aided me in clarifying my thinking.
    I don’t agree with everything Scott McLeod has to say, but I do think my interactions with him have influenced my thinking. Scott is a person who lives in the “ivory tower” of academia, although he tends to like to challenge the thinking of those that reside there with him. If it were not for work he is doing, we would not have engaged in the conversations we have had on this post. Not all those in the collegiate system go on the road and collect huge sums of money for speaking engagements, so be careful we don’t lump all of them together with those, like Payne and Daggett, who do.

  27. Wow, I have often said that my job as a teacher was to make students into an infallible b.s. detector. Apparently teachers need the lesson too. We can all fall into the trap of accepting ideas without data.

  28. I think that the problem is that you have multiple interpretations of data occurring. That and many suppose that data tells you conclusively something when in all reality it ussually stimulates conversation and generates more questions. Asking, “Why, why, why, why, why” is the path to true learning.
    While involved in a disciplinary conference, I had a kid that told me my b.s. detector was broken so I guess I would need a lesson or two myself. Another student indicated that he was suffering from a severe case of rectal-cranial-inversion and guaranteed me he was well on his way towards a cure for himself. I think as long as we look at things objectively and realize that further study into any well marketed initiative is crucial prior to jumping on board, we can all keep from suffering to severely from that rectal-cranial-inversion problem. Even the most intelligent people fall ill to that serious problem now and again.

  29. The question, “How accountable should we be holding outside consultants (and the people who hire them)?”
    Who hires outside consultants?
    Most of the time they come through the AEA that services the school district. The AEA employs a Professional Development Coordinator to research and hire consultants. This process is monitored by the AEA Director.
    Now who researches the consultants, the above, hopefully… It is in the AEA’s accrediation standards (Iowa Code 273.10-273.11) 3. Educational services- research and demonstrate projects and models.
    These PD programs are to be responsive to current needs.
    So… the AEA is given approximately 81/2% of the per pupil funding and with that they allocate approximately 15% of their budget to PD and the research and hiring of consultants…as an teacher or administrator I would hope they are doing their job.
    If not blogs like this open our eyes to see that maybe checks and balances are important.
    Does an administrator or teacher have the time to research every aspect of the credentials of a consultant let alone read every document and opinion that is out there before the consultant comes to the state or school district? I wish I had that time, I love to read, an ivory tower academic sounds pretty good at times. I also see value in non-data driven approach that some consultants use (experience in life can not be dismissed). I agree with David that spending a good deal of time reflecting with others on what I have read has made me a better educator.
    Time to reflect with others like a blog is key!
    So… to keep a severe case of rectal-cranial-inversion away read,discuss, and blog every day!!!

  30. I haven’t had the chance to read all the comments, but I can absolutely agree with you about the wasteful use of incompetent, ineffective or downright damaging consultants. As a teacher, I’ve experienced many consultants (and multiple years of some) who’ve literally had nothing to impart. Insubstantial programming is damaging to students, but even more damaging to the openness of teachers to new ideas and programming that might be beneficial. It’s hard to believe that there’s anything to learn when you’ve gone to so many workshops in which there was nothing to learn.

    On another note, while I am not a fan of making sweeping generalizations about poor parents, there is a significant amount of data out there to suggest that poor parents are also often without the resources (both tangible and intangible) that are needed for creating a beneficial climate for school readiness and for social mobility. Research conducted by Professor Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University suggests strongly that parenting, as well as financial, deficits among poorer people contribute to children’s lack of preparedness for and ability to compete with more affluent children.

    The study said: “The environments of low-income children differ in many dimensions from those of more affluent children. For example, access to toys, books, computers and learning-related activities may be directly affected by lack of income.

    “But other dimensions, such as parental sensitivity and responsiveness to children’s needs, may be linked more strongly to parents’ education, knowledge of child development and psychological well-being.”

    link here:

  31. Andrey, the sentence that concludes your posting and that you cite from Dr. Waldfogel’s study links us back to ECONOMIC, not parental deficiencies that effect how children are raised in poor families – something that Paul Gorski and several other participants were emphasizing throughout this conversation. Why do you think poor parents are less educated and psychologically uncomfortable? How about because of SEVERE lack of access to economic resources to withstand the system’s pressure?

  32. We know that poverty is not just an incidental economic condition… it’s a series of economic and social conditions that impact on every area of life. The WHY of poverty is less important than the WHAT… what are the characteristics of poverty that are self perpetuating and what can we do about it; the WHAT is what we want to address as a culture… what to do about children being born to children… disorganized family structures, negative role models, limited horizons, etc. It seems unfair that the sins of the father are rested upon the son. It shouldn’t be, but it is. There are habits and choices in poverty that reinforce for future poverty among some of its members. This does not indict all poor parents or blame victims.. it’s just description.

  33. Audrey (I apologize for the misspelling of your name in the previous posting), I very strongly disagree with your statement as to the WHY of the poverty being less important than the WHAT. To say so means to, in fact, indict all poor parents and promote the perpetuation of the current state of affairs. Poverty being not just an incidental economic condition as you rightly point out needs to be addressed by communal effort, not merely blamed or attributed to the culture of those condemned to survive under the current economic conditions. “The culture of poverty” is there because we as a society are purposefully (re)creating it…

  34. Dr. McLeod,

    Maybe you will hold another contest for a CASTLE mug for the questions that struck emotion or went unanswered?

    I enjoyed this post, comments, discussion, and the YouTube presentation by John Wittle. We have many more students with opinions and suggestions to improve their own schools and districts, yet those who are authorized to make decisions on how to spend funds on whatever, consultants, outdated textbooks, computers without being users of technology, as a majority do not listen to the primary stakeholders, the students and the business community that will possibly employ our next generation of graduates, of all levels.

    The comments to this series of posts add to the variety of discussion points, opinions, and emotions tied to this topic.

    You have posted some thought provoking questions which I am sure we will see responses posted on some blogs and some that will never be answered.

    Thanks again for your shared knowledge, insightful blog posts, and sharing the comments. I know many of us wish we had more hours in the day to read and respond to your blog.

    I look forward to more thought and comment provoking posts in 2009.

  35. Thank you for this insightful and incisive post on Ruby Payne. I heard her speak once and was immediately wary of her argument and style, for many of the reasons that the fourteen-year-old in the video gives. She makes grand generalizations about the differences between the poor and the middle class, based on what? There is no humility, no nuance to her argument, no acknowledgment that her ideas are nothing new.

    In her arguments, and those of many other individuals and organizations, I find an eschewal of subject matter itself. It seems dangerous, difficult, unapproachable. “The poor cannot learn until they have mastered the academic register.” “Each child has a neurodevelopmental profile that must be taken into account.” “Children cannot read because no one has taught them reading strategies.” These seemingly different “theories” have a common trait: they posit a barrier between student and subject, and erect yet another barrier of “register,” “profile,” “strategies,” or what you will.

    The imagined barriers to learning are not there, at least not across the board. The responses to such imagined barriers are a grand waste of time and a diversion from the substance of teaching. We should plunge right into subject matter and help students as they need. Of course we make adjustments for our students, but the adjustments should not replace the subject any more than salt should replace a stew.

    Diana Senechal

  36. Quite the discussion going on here. Let me dive into the comments and highlight one thing that really bugged me.

    Paul asserted, “There is absolutely no evidence that low-income children see or experience more violence than wealthy children.” David replied, “There are plenty of studies that have cited a correlation between income and violence.” To which, Paul responded that it depends on how you define violent crime.

    Let me re-define the context a bit. Instead of talking about “low-income children” or “poverty,” let us talk specifically about schools in urban areas and leave out rural poverty for the moment. That’s the context in which I work, and frankly it’s the one that interests me the most.

    Can you say with a straight face that students living in poor cities witness less violence than students in middle class suburbs? I think crime statistics show pretty definitively that places like Newark and Camden have a higher crime rate than the outlying NJ suburbs.

    You can argue that there are certain “privileged” crimes that are elided by our justice system, but these aren’t the ones that sometimes make my students afraid to come to school or to walk home after dark. That’s caused by the prevalence of murders, gang shootings, stabbings – traditional, in-your-face violent crime.

    It is wrong to blame a “culture of poverty” for student failure, but it is naive to imply that an urban setting does not present a different context and more obstacles than for the students than a suburban setting.

    In other words, there’s nothing wrong the the students and their parents. There’s something wrong with the city.

  37. Since Dr. Gorski (Paul) declined to provide more specific suggestions on how to do this,

    “The best possible thing we can do for low-income students is to fight for their basic human rights, such as equitable access to fully-equipped schools, healthcare, safe and affordable housing, and the sorts of things their wealthier peers take for granted.”

    I took the liberty of writing up some stuff myself. It’ll be a three parter at and starts here:

  38. I am surprised that no one is familiar with the Code of Ethics developed by the National Staff Development Council. It deals with the issue of consultants in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner.

  39. Lesya,

    I appreciate your concern for the social causes of poverty. I disagree with your conclusion that “we as a society are purposely (re)creating it.” Focusing on the WHY rather than on the WHAT is actually one sure way to reinforce poverty. It distracts from our mandate as educators, which is to educate and to create opportunity. Our job, as educators, is neither to indict nor excuse maladjustment. Whether we feel badly for children in poverty, whether we think it their fault or ours, whether we think that we should feel a measure of social guilt is irrelevant. Our purpose is to socialize and educate children for success. When that means resocializing because the socialization that the child has received is inadequate, then resocialize… and don’t waste any time about it. The people who can’t do that, should remove themselves from the classroom and school system. They provide better service elsewhere.

    Sociologists and policy wonks may spend as much time as they like bemoaning society for failing poor people. The educator has a more immediate job… not failing them.

  40. I appreciate this website and your willingness to look at another side of an issue. I read with interest the responses and fully agree with the comments about Ruby Payne. Last year when we began to follow her framework in our professional development, I felt uncomfortable with it. The more I read, the more outraged I felt. In this age of No Child Left Behind, when all of our professional development and applications are to be ‘research based and scientifically supported’, it strikes me as odd that so many school districts are jumping on the bandwagon of a book that has been SELF PUBLISHED, meaning she did not even have to go through the peer review process. Her research is old, questionable and not well supported, yet so many buy it hook, line and sinker…

  41. After reading Ruby Payne’s Framework of Poverty, I too agree that it is very odd that she has become the authority on poverty in regards to education, when we are in an age of research and data driven results. However, she is accomplishing her agenda—she has us talking about her company and this topic—(bravo with the marketing—gotta love America) Yet as educators, we should know to do our own research and not take anyone at face value—anyone can take statistics and research and make it prove what they want to say. Sadly enough, I do not think we will ever come to a conclusion on the issue of poverty and education, because the people driving the decisions governing our education system are so far removed from the classroom and the people who need to be heard are in the minority and teachers are stuck in the middle.

  42. What is missing in this discussion and in Payne’s work is, “What do we do about in our classrooms?” I taught in Minneapolis for ten years in the 90s. During that time, I went to the week long leadership workshop with Ruby Payne. I bought in. As a white upper middle class male, the absenteeism, lack of home/school communication, poor turn out at p/t conferences and other schoo events led me right to her for answers. Fifteen years later, I now work with rural poverty. The issues are similar. Familiar with the criticism of Payne’s work, I looked elsewhere for answers. Eric Jensen’s “Teaching With Poverty In Mind” is an excellent offering in this area. He doesn’t waste a lot time on cute anecdotes, instead focussing on the affects of poverty on the brain and it’s implications for learning based on actual research. If you truly want to address the issues related to poverty in your school, I recommend checking this out.

    • I am aware of the criticism regarding Dr. Payne’s work and some of the concern regarding the marketing that surrounds her materials and books. It is important to continue to explore both the research and the reactions to the research related to children in poverty and what our schools need to do to more efectively meet their needs. The greatest contribution of Dr. Payne may be the accessibility of her work and the fact that the courses, articles, and other activities that occur around her work are an effective gateway to this critical topic.

      Too many educators are either ignorant of the lack of success in using traditional educational programs to meet the needs of poor students, or are unwilling to do anything about it. While we can move on to other authors, researchers, and courses for even better and more current interventions, her work is a good place to start.

      I have enjoyed reading Dr. Payne and know that I am more aware of the individual circumstances of some of my students as a result. If every educator could gain just that much, we would more successfully address the needs of students in poverty.

  43. After reading Ruby Payne’s book and literally hours of blog comments, I must say, Ruby has never claimed to be the “authority” on poverty. I understand that her research is her personal experience. But each and everyone of us has learned things through personal experiences. Stop worrying about how much money she is making with her books and her workshops. That is irrelevent. Greg asked, “What do we do about it in our classrooms?” Greg, be aware of the differences between students of wealth and students of poverty, know that each child goes home to something different, do what you can to offer support to those students who are lacking, and create a personal relationship of respect with every child in your classroom. I understand that there are exceptions to the rule. There are exceptions to every rule. I am one of them. I raised my daughter in low-income housing. I was surrounded by ignorance, laziness, and violence. It sickened me and I worked very hard to better my life. I went to college and got my master’s, sent my daughter to college, and now teach as middle class person in a township of poverty. If reading Ruby’s books enlightens you in any way to a better understanding of people in a different socioeconomic class other than your own, it was well worth your time.

  44. I just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book as part of a course on poverty and education. I think the book has caused me to reflect and think more carefully about my practice, so where is the harm in that?

    On the other hand, as a teacher, I teach my students to be critical consumers of information. I teach them to be cautious about people that say they are the “leading US expert” on a topic. Much of what she says comes from making generalizations about people in poverty all falling neatly into one category. I don’t think this means that the information is not valuable, one just needs to be cautious using it as the only source of information on poverty.

  45. I think Payne’s objectives are more narrow than most of the critics on this blog.

    I think Payne is working from within a flawed system. I think her suggestions are ways for teachers to approach and think more about poverty. Yes, she has come gross generalizations. Yes, she makes some wild claims and backs them up with little current research.

    What bothered me the most about her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty is that Payne blames the behaviors of all classes on their role models and the agenda that is set at home. In an attempt to demystify generational poverty, I think she simplified it all down to attitudes, “One of the key indicators of whether it is generational or situational poverty is the prevailing attitude. Often the attitude in generational poverty is that society owes one a living. In situational poverty the attitude is one of pride and refusal to accept charity” (Framework, p.47). This simplification of attitude is steeped in stereotypes and I have seen wealthy students who carry this entitlement around as well.

    Her suggestions are more ways to work from within the system (I think most teachers can sift through what is valuable and erroneous in many of her claims).

    Paul Gorski and Larry Ferlazzo are dead on that we need to change the system. Poverty in this country for children is embarrassing and dangerous. We do need to overhaul how we fund schools, how we assess student learning, how we talk to parents, healthcare availability for students, affordable housing, etc.

    I appreciate the discussion and the attention that is being given to this topic. Students who come from poor families are definitely getting a different kind of education than wealthy and many middle class children. This should be a problem for all educators and long-term thinkers.

    Funding schools properly and equitably would be a start.

  46. I’ve been in the classroom for 19 years in a district with a substantial population living in poverty. Although Payne is accused of working within generalizations, my work is based on generalizations. What do I have to do to have a rigorous curriculum, maintain classroom discipline, establish rapport with my students, etc.? I start with generalized ideas of course and then work with the special situations as they occur. Payne challenged me to think outside of my generalized bank of ideas.

    I don’t think Payne presented her text as a culmination of percentages and ratios. It is more anecdotal and therefore more likely to be read by those of us looking to relate to our students. What’s wrong with that?

    Intelligent, open-minded people are capable of sifting through information and finding what fits their needs. It seems Gorski’s need is to publish adversarial articles skewing Payne’s words. It’s obnoxious, really.

    I am in the classroom. The system has eternally needed to be changed. I need tools to help me work within the system I have now.

  47. I think that you can not make generalizations about any group of people. There are many in generational poverty that Payne’s theories do not fit. My great grandfathers were coal miners and farmers as were their sons. All were extremely poor. My mom grew up in a house with two bedrooms, and six children. No insulation and an outhouse. Yet education was valued as a reality. They didn’t spend their money as soon as they got it, they saved as much as they could, when they could.
    I have students that are poor and yet don’t know how to get a gun, or which grocery store dumpsters to get food from. Some of them have parents that very involved in their education and push them to do well. Some are more involved than middle class parents. Perhaps Payne is only certain segments of poverty.

  48. Flip Flippen’s Capturing Kids Hearts training – SUCKS.

    Yeah, right – you ask a kid “what are doing and what are you supposed to be doing?” – and the kid answers “Fuck you.”

    This training is nothing more than liberal, Progressive bullshit.

    It is a waste of money – but you won’t hear many teachers giving truthful feedback…they are too worried about keeping their jobs…and giving in to the young, idealistic, morons.

  49. Yeah for Ruby Payne (RP) and yeah for opponents like Paul Gorski (PG). Both have provided food-for-thought. One seems to be more practical for educators (RP) such as myself, to “hang-their-hat” so-to-speak, to help make sense of something they’ve never experienced. The other one is a little more for the philosophers & politicians who seem to give not only give lip service to, but billions of dollars to help eradicate poverty in the “fight to provide equal access to fully equipped school, healthcare and safe and affordable housing… you know, those things that we ‘wealthier peers’ take for granted.” Who’s making the broad generalizations NOW? (PG, Dec 28, 2008 @ 8:37)
    I’m trying so hard not to get cynical or sarcastic, but I just can’t help but wonder; have we not already as a society, BEEN TRYING, for over 46 years, to be getting rid of, i.e., to eradicate poverty AND to provide equitable access to America’s poor? History reveals that in 1964, Lyndon Johnson launched, what was started in the Kennedy administration, when he declared War on Poverty.
    It’s purpose was to eradicate poverty in the United States by getting rid of city-slums, (provide safe & affordable housing) restore people stricken with poverty back to “good measure”(give them welfare dollars so they could “get on their feet”) to provide education for the “less fortunate” (Head Start, which grew into a permanent billion dollar programs to provide education, health & nutritional services to more than 18 million low income preschool children) and then finally, it was to give full rights to” blacks and other minorities”.
    Many, many, many programs were created and launched during and since this declaration against poverty in the United States to make in-roads in eradicating poverty. Three well-funded programs that have funneled billions of dollars in trying to make a difference are Medicare, Medicaid, and the Neighborhood Youth Corps. The latter was created to keep “needy” students in school by offering them incentives such as stipends, work experience and “attitudinal training”. Other programs and billions spent included trying to improve the living conditions of the migrant farmer and yet another to provide rehabilitation services to welfare beneficiaries. Is the argument in return going to simply be that we haven’t spent enough to get rid of poverty? I think that throwing money at poverty HAS made a difference to help those who have decided that they simply did not want to stay in poverty forever. Is there not a difference between generational poverty and situational poverty?
    I have taught for 15 years in a wealthy private high school in a bedroom community for 15 years. I have taught in a poorer rural high school for 15 years where 60-65% are free & reduced. And, I grew up in a very middle class family… and attended a very middle class small town high school, and guess what, there IS a HUGE difference in the culture that exists among the different socio-economic classes. I knew there were some MAJOR underpinning differences in attitudes in especially planning for the near-future (college planning & leaving home). I was only able to start making sense of attitudes and views, especially toward higher education, after becoming less ignorant about generational poverty.
    Ruby Payne’s book holds terrific truths that helped ME to be more helpful and encouraging to my students and parents. Her wisdom, with its generalizations and all, gave me a base of understanding of generational poverty.


  1. Reform me! | Reflections on Teaching - August 26, 2010

    […] trainings on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning were like the anti-thesis of Ruby Payne. It was also like a trip down memory lane for me, because my teacher preparation at San Francisco […]

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