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. Districts should not spend their monies on Dr. Payne’s work; instead schools should invest their monies on providing on-site health care centers and other programs that would benefit the students and families that suffer from poverty. It would make more sense that since we as a group of people are aware of the root causes of poverty that we should instill the programs that can resolve the problems associated with being in poverty. Some of the issues are poor attendance and achievements gaps which could be solved by educating parents on health, providing free or reduced health care so students can stay and remain healthy to be able to attend school to learn. This serves as just one example. We always hear of the problems, we always talk about the strategies, but how often do we implement them and take a real active initiative to do something that shows a huge impact. The knowledge and the cure is available and out here, the question is who is willing to fund this and really make it happen.

    • I agree with you, Quixotic29. It is so easy for speakers to come in and tell us what the problems are, (which we teachers have already identified) and get paid thousands of dollars. When teachers leave these “trainings” we can implement some changes in our classrooms, but those changes are bandaids on the root problems. Until some of the root causes of learning issues related to poverty are addressed, permanent change won’t happen. School funding could be spent in ways that would benefit families in poverty, like you suggest – health care, parenting education, etc. The changes needing to be made are not solely at the classroom level.

  2. I understand that we do not need to accept everything that Ruby Payne states as fact in her Framework for Understanding Poverty. She does make generalizations to explain cultural differences among the classes. Isnt that what we do with research? Find data to support our ideas and make generalizations.
    I did not find most of Payne’s book to be eye-opening in that I have been working with students of poverty for 12 years, and have observed many of the same issues that she discusses. Critics who say because her research is anecdotal that she is not worthy of merit is silly, to be kind.
    I had never seen nor heard of the Hidden Rules of Poverty prior to reading this book, but I did find it interesting. I liked the way she compared the classes using the chart to identify major differences. And for the most part, I had to agree with what she wrote.
    I had to laugh in disbelief at some of Payne’s dissenters in regard to deficit theory. Yes, maybe some of what Payne has witnessed has led her to the belief that many people stay in poverty because they choose. But she also notes that many people in poverty lack resources, quality education, quality jobs and healthcare, and are exposed to violence, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse/trafficking that significantly hinder their ability to move out of their life of poverty.
    I believe that Payne’s intentions are good in that she is trying to help teachers give all students the tools they need to be successful in life. Does that make her a bad person?

    • While Ruby isnt perfect she does make anyone who read her to stop and think about the students that they work with. She like our students arent percect and people need to realize that and accept that. All we can do while we research it to have an open mind and work hard to improve the lives of our students.

      • I agree Pat. Payne and Gorski reccognize that our educational system needs to be adjusted. Their hearts are in the right place. Recognizing who is responsible for this adjustment is where they disagree. Most importantly, they agree that poverty creates unequal education. Bringing awareness to this problem and having an open mind to solutions, is a step in the right direction and a crucial step in moving forward to fixing the problem.

    • I agree with much of what you have written. For the past 15 years, I have been working with students in poverty. While reading (and after reading) Payne’s book, I did not have too many aha! moments however I did think a bit deeper and refocused some of my ways of interacting with students. While some of her writing seemed to overgeneralize and stereotype, I did gather some information that I found useful. I really liked Chapter 3. The quizzes related to could you survive in poverty? in middle class? and in wealth were a simple but effective way to highlight some general differences among classes. While I recognize these are generalities and stereotypical, you have to admit they are pretty accurate for at least some members of each of the 3 classes she describes. And we are educators, we should be able to recognize we cannot make the assumption that each of our students in poverty experience life the same way–just as each person in middle class does not experience life in teh same way. The hidden rules on pages 42-43 laid out differences ranging from poverty to food to eduction to world view to humor. I thought this was effective. While I did not agree with everything Payne wrote, I found her style of writing with examples easy to read and relate to. I agree that Payne’s intentions are to help educators to help all students become successful.
      I should also say that I greatly enjoyed the perspective and ideas for educators that Eric Jensen’s book “Teaching with Poverty in Mind”. I really liked the school wide success factors along with classroom level SHARE factors in his book. I think his research on cognitive function and the effect of stress was very thouht provoking. I also think that he shares a lot of practical examples from Chapter 6 on jumpstarting the brain, building the operating systems, and getting physical every 12-15 minutes. Both Payne and Jensen have given me more to think about and some strategies to try.

      • I agree with most of what MAG said. Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, was an interesting read. I feel that the generalizations, including the quiz of the three classes, was a bit extreme. The way the three classes were categorized did not seem to me to represent most of those that would fall into each of those classes.
        After working with students in all three of these classes over the last eight years in a very diverse school, I found some of the information to be applicable. I found it easy to identify students in my current and past classes with these characteristics. However, I felt that some of the strategies and scenarios discussed were not representative of the majority of students in my school.
        Most of Payne’s book was thought-provoking and got me thinking about how I can change the learning environment to best suit all of my students. Since reading and studying her works, I have made some changes to my language, teaching strategies and assignments. However, I also felt it did highlight some things that we are already doing as a school to build equity and opportunity for our students of all classes.
        Overall, I wouldn’t say that it had the great impact that I was looking for as far as strategies to implement immediately or ideas that really made me think about things that I haven’t in the past.

      • As I read Payne’s book, a framework for poverty, I found the quiz portion of the text, as well as, the hidden rules to be interesting. Although I did not agree with everything, I found them to be thought provoking. After teaching students in poverty for many years and witnessing first hand some of their realities, the hidden rules made sense. Even though I found some of Payne’s theories to have merit, I much preferred reading Eric Jensen’s, Teaching With Poverty In Mind. His book looks at what being poor does to children’s brains beginning with prenatal care. His primary focus in on the child and what we as educators can do to facilitate more meaningful learning. I would recommend his book over Payne’s.

    • I just finished reading one of her books and found it enlightening. Although I had never heard of the rules among classes, I experienced them and now understand them much better. I liked the way that she not only described general qualities of poverty but provided specific examples of how to help overcome those in the classroom setting. I hope to utilize this new information in my own class this upcoming year.

    • I agree with you bmcg. Her book resonated with me and I feel as though her intent is not to “fix” children, but to provide scaffolding that they need to overcome some of the obstacles that are created by living in poverty. Yes, much of what she writes is anecdotal, but that also makes it authentic. Many researchers use small sample sizes and sociological researchers also use a participant/observer model. This is no different. I do not see her as blaming the victim. I felt as though she offered an empathic portrait of a variety of situations which are concomitant with poverty. The majority of her case studies feature families who are victim to unfortunate circumstances or certain family members who have contributed to their situation. in no way does she indicate that these subjects are lazy. Her portrait rings true and I do not believe she is indicating that ALL people in poverty live this way.

  3. It is my opinion that Ruby Payne’s critics have merit. I believe that Payne reinforces stereotypes and sells these stereotypes to teachers as an effective way to help their students. Payne encourages teachers to seek to understand their students and encourage them to learn alternate behaviors that will allow them to succeed in school. Researchers would further argue that Payne provides no concrete evidence to support her conclusions. They are merely observations and insights. Although they may offer a glimpse into the world of poverty, I think that Payne’s insights must be presented cautiously in a manner that emphasizes that these characteristics are not always present among people living in poverty. Teachers need to be empowered to believe that they have the ability to form meaningful relationships with students and that all students are capable of achieving.

  4. I have had the pleasure of working for the last 12 years in a school district that has a student population of approx. 50% free and reduced lunch. I realize Payne has received much criticism regarding her work in A Framework for Understand Poverty but I found much of the information presented in her book helpful in understanding many of the behaviors I witness on a daily basis in my school. I believe any reading used as a research source needs to be accepted with caution as also needs to be done with Paynes writing. I’ve read that many of the criticizers of Paynes work feels that her research actually increases prejudice. I can understand that train of thought but for myself, I think her research lessened my bias in that I now feel I understand the reason behind the behaviors I’m seeing. It does not mean I will tolerate the behaviors any more than I did before but I may use more of a teaching mode to try to change the behavior, rather than an authoritative approach to controlling the behavior. I found Gorski difficult to read only in the fact that his comments were so extremely critical that he lost validity with me. Certainly, some value can be found in any learned persons research. I for one am glad I read Payne’s book as it also reinforced for me the need for schools to not underestimate the value of the teacher – student relationship.

    • I did not agree with everything Payne wrote but do plan on making changes in the way that I teach and relate with all of my students and families. It did give me some insights into poverty but I also felt that it perpetuates stereotypes and classism. I think to better help all students it is important to focus our efforts on ensuring basic human rights for all people.

  5. I am currently working on class called “In the Face of Poverty.” The school I teach at is 75% Free and Reduced. The class has been a real eye opener for me. It did a great job of scaffolding my learning and in helping me come to my own conclusions about Ruby Payne’s work. The class had me read Payne’s book first and really digest it. I must admit I had several Aha! moments myself and it was intriguing to say the least. Then I had to read Eric Jensen’s book “Teaching with Poverty in Mind.” I was completely blown away. What a great book! The research behind it and the practical classroom applications are far superior to Payne’s work. After 20 years of people trying to get her to rethink her stereotypes and generalizations, she has done nothing but continue to rake in millions as a consultant peddling her outdated theories. Unless educators dig deeper into this issue, she will continue to resonate with teachers who see her as the guru of the poverty issue. Many teachers at my school subscribe to Payne’s ideas and I can see the evidence of the deficit theory seeping out of their every pore. I am presenting my finding to our staff in March. I hope I can sway a few of the Payne followers to get a different perspective on the issue of poverty…our student’s lives depend on it.

    • Jennifer,
      I am also finishing the same course and work in a school with a similar profile. Payne’s book was the first assigned text and I have to admit many of stereotypes and generalizations made me quite uncomfortable. The more I read, the more I questioned the validity of her theories. Following that with Jensen’s book was like a breath of fresh air. I found his book to be extremely practical and insightful with regard to the physiological and psychological impact of poverty. His research that proves cognitive capacity is not fixed but improvable is powerful! I agree with you that educators have to keep digging and continue to question her platform. Good luck with your fight!

    • I am also taking this class. I do see that there is stereotyping. She is due credit for bringing this to the forefront. The video on this web site, done by a 14 year old is well done. I feel that there are many different ways to approach the poverty issues in our schools today. I think that we owe it to all of our students to research several “authorities” and take what works for us and implement programs that we see necessary.

  6. I feel that a lot of the critics of Payne’s work view her as a commonplace, stereotypical, close-minded thinker. I feel that she chose to focus her work on her strengths. I feel that Payne wrote her book from the knowledge and experiences that she has learned and had throughout her life. That is why so many people in education can relate to her books. What Payne writes can be observed in almost any classroom in an urban setting. In my eyes, she writes from the background of working with students who come from the urban generational poverty class.
    She mentioned in the Framework text, situational poverty and generational poverty. Whereas Jenkins, breaks the idea of different types of poverty into the classes of situational, generational, absolute, relative, urban and rural. Her critics claim not everything she writes of is true for all people living in poverty and I say that yes, they are correct. I feel that if Payne wants acceptance from her critics, she must have more of a position on why others in poverty act as they do. What about the people living in the rural areas of Appalachia or on the barren farmlands of the mid & south west? They too suffer from generational poverty, but their belief systems may be completely different from the urban poverty cases. I feel for total acceptance, different viewpoints must be taken, by Payne, on the matter of all people living in poverty.

    • In reading Payne’s book a “framework for Understanding Poverty” I did have some “Aha” moments. Payne’s belief that children in poverty need to be fixed does not sit well with me. It sends a message that “you can’t” which tends to promote dependency. Not all children of poverty are the same or have the same behaviors. We cannot generalize people, we are all individuals.
      In reading Jensen’s book “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” he shares school wide success factors to use in the classrooms and the school. His thought “life experiences can change students for the better really hits home to me. I believe that teachers and school personnel are looking for good instructional and management skills that can effectively educate all students. Schools and staff should work with all family members in order to succeed.
      In reading Payne, Jensen, and Gorski I have gathered key resources to help students in my position as a school nurse.

      • I whole heartedly agree with your obsevations and opinion. I read both Payne and Jensen’s bookis on poverty and found Payne lacking in positivity. I also felt it was uncomfortable and prejudiced. I enjoyed Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind for the simple reason it got down to basics. All individuals have basic needs such as food shelter and healthcare. When those needs are met we can then challenge the individual in the classroom with engaging lessons that create connections with our students. Seeing their glass as half full does not sit well with me.

        • I completely agree with your observations on both Payne’s and Jensen’s books on poverty. I recently read both books and found that Payne made a lot of generalizations about people in poverty. The things she mentioned may be true for some people who live in poverty, but it’s not right to assume that these things are true for all people who live in poverty. I felt that Jensen had a much more positive approach to poverty. He puts more emphasis on the individual and does not stereotype.

        • Ruby Payne’s clear cut hidden rules are difficult for me to accept as a kindergarten teacher. Each family situation is so different and just because you live in poverty doesn’t mean you function under all of Payne’s hidden rules. I do feel that reading Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty and Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind have made me a better teacher. I have never taken a public bus to attend my children’s school activities, I don’t worry that I will lose my job if I take time off to attend school events for them, and don’t have to worry that I can’t afford the materials to help my own children at home with their school work. Reading these books helped me begin to see how I look at the world through the lens of the middle class. Being judgemental or having pity for families doesn’t help them. With the help of Jensen’s book I now have practical ideas to use to help overcome road blocks that are put in front of some of the families I work with.

  7. I enjoyed reading from Ruby Payne’s book. I have been teaching in a Title 1 school for the past 6 years. More often than not my students come from a life in poverty. I have seen first hand the “outcomes” from such an upbringing as described in Payne’s writings. While at the same time, there are plenty of critics to her ideas which do have merit. Payne’s writing focuses on the students’ faults that which will create issues in succeeding in education and life in general. Some critics claim that her work is in fact an assault on those students. Payne’s critics also claim her work to be extremely stereotypical.

    I would have to say that in the early years of my teaching I felt more “understanding” towards my students living in poverty but found that I almost shortchanged them by feeling this way. I would accept many excuses as to why assignments were not being completed or studying was not happening at home. While today, I set my expectations high no matter where my students come from. I keep the bar raised high and try to support my students as much as possible when needed. I also make more of an effort to build meaningful relationships with my students. I believe that there should be more of a push to fix the education system in America and not blame students because of where they came from or still live.

    • I am taking a class on poverty and have been impressed with the information from Payne’s text. It was easy to read and follow as well as explain the origin of the problems our students face. I have worked in a Title 1 school and now in Title 1 districts. One of the middle schools I work at had just told me they have 87 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. I understand how Gorski describes Payne’s writings as being classist, but I found it helpful in understanding the complex issues that our students face. Several of the ideas from Payne’s text I will also use back in the districts in which I work.

  8. I have been teaching in a school for eleven years where the majority of students live in poverty. If one merely makes a “casual flip” through the book as Gorski states, you can easily believe that Payne promotes a deficit theory towards poverty. The scenarios she used were chosen to help represent the lack of resources. They also give the reader an idea of what life may be like for people in poverty.

    The social economic survival quiz is there to help the reader identify what may be important to people at different economic levels. Suggesting that all poor people use knives as scissors is stereotype. The essence of the question is that due to a lack of resources, a person in poverty may have to make do with a different tool or object when necessary.

    In the appendix, Payne discusses the deficit theory and her belief in the additive theory. She acknowledges that too often policies are focused only on the individuals in poverty. They often ignore larger components of society such as the loss of well paying jobs.

  9. Ruby Payne’s book gives us insight into her knowledge and life experiences. She offers helpful advice on working with students in poverty. Given her work and the research of Gorski or Jensen, we can work to improve the school experience for children in our classroom, whether from poverty or wealth. Unfortunately, people in poverty do not always have the resources they need to experience academic success. Educators need to learn how to better understand what poverty is and how it affects students. We need to learn about the social, cognitive, health-related and stress-related challenges that students have. These authors offer opposing positions; however, using parts of each, we can help the students in our classroom.

  10. I do believe educators need to be careful not to overgeneralize Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understand Poverty.” Each student needs to be treated like an individual no matter what their economic group. With that that said, I am not against her book at all even though I have read some of the critiques against Ruby Payne’s work. I believe knowledge is power, so whatever I can learn about my students to help me become a better educator is always appreciated. I feel like our school was forced to look at this due to an achievement gap in socioeconomic status. I have also read her book “Research-Based Strategies, Narrowing the Achievement Gap for Under-Resourced Students”, which offered many strategies that again I think would be helpful to all students. Both of her books were quick reads. I feel like I have a better understanding of people and some effective strategies to help students.
    I also read Eric Jensen’s book, “Teaching with Poverty In Mind.” I agree with a previous person on this blog that I thought this book was great. It seemed very research based. After being in education for twenty-one year, I still came away from this book with many ideas. I liked his idea of looking at the whole child.
    I always knew that building relationships with students and families were important, but now I will always have this on the front of my mind.

  11. Being in a district where over 40% of students are on free and reduced lunch I have seen the effects poverty has had on them. I think Payne does a great job explaining the research findings on the adverse effects of poverty on cognitive, academic, social/emotional, and behavioral development. It is important to note the deficits faced by students in poverty so as educators we can help address these issues. A downside to Payne’s approach to poverty is that she overgeneralizes the ‘culture’ of poverty. Each student is unique and their situation. This is where building relationships and getting to know our students is pertinent for their success. The book titled: Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen really emphasizes what educators can do as school to counter the effects poverty has on students. This book helped me see my role and simple techniques I can do to ensure success in all students. All in all, Payne provides a framework for seeing the effects of poverty and the culture, but Jensen does a better job of explaining how educators can help students in poverty. I always think if only I could change a child’s home situation it would make things better. The unfortunate reality is we do not have control over this as educators. However, the time a child is in school we can make significant changes in their best interest to counter the effects at home.

  12. A. Being in a district where over 40% of students are on free and reduced lunch I have seen the effects poverty has had on them. I think Payne does a great job explaining the research findings on the adverse effects of poverty on cognitive, academic, social/emotional, and behavioral development. It is important to note the deficits faced by students in poverty so as educators we can help address these issues. A downside to Payne’s approach to poverty is that she overgeneralizes the ‘culture’ of poverty. Each student is unique and their situation. This is where building relationships and getting to know our students is pertinent for their success. The book titled: Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen really emphasizes what educators can do as school to counter the effects poverty has on students. This book helped me see my role and simple techniques I can do to ensure success in all students. All in all, Payne provides a framework for seeing the effects of poverty and the culture, but Jensen does a better job of explaining how educators can help students in poverty. I always think if only I could change a child’s home situation it would make things better. The unfortunate reality is we do not have control over this as educators. However, the time a child is in school we can make significant changes in their best interest to counter the effects at home.

  13. I believe if you create expectations of people, high or low, they will meet those expectations. If we assume that all poor children are going to do poor on tests and aren’t going to work hard, the students will pick up on that and meet your expectations. I currently have a student living in poverty but was accepted into a specialized gifted program in my building! Do you think just because he is poor he shouldn’t be in that class?
    I think drawing lines between the classes about behavior, attitude, etc is one of the worst things we can do as a society! Guess what…I know what to look for in a used car (one of Payne’s survival needs for a person in poverty) and I am middle class. I also know wealthy people whose kids aren’t going to college, and poor people whose kids are going to college! What would you say to all of the first generation college grads?? “Wow, with your family history I’m surprised you did it!”
    We need to be looking at getting rid of the stereotypes about the classes and focus on getting the best results and making education as attainable as possible to all students!!

  14. I just completed a course that used Payne’s “framework” and I really wasn’t sure what to make of her or her work.

    After reading several critics’ articles, I can see why so many disagree with her approach. I have to agree that she walks a fine line between generalizing and stereotyping, which is a dangerous line to cross when giving advice to educators. It’s almost like she is setting us up to expect these negative characteristics from our poor students, yet we are constantly warned not to prejudge our students or have low expectations of them coming in.

    I think she missed the bar on giving sound advice by focusing too heavily on classism. Many of her insights and techniques are valuable, but she skews things with the underlying connotation that all people of poverty are lacking motivation and certain “middle class” skills that they need for success.

  15. I, too, have read both Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and Eric Jensen’s “Teaching with Poverty in Mind”. I agree with many of the commentaries here in that Jensen’s book is more thoroughly supported by his aggregating the research, is more user friendly in how he offers school-wide and classroom-based strategies, gives examples of the strategies working in real schools, and using the fictional character of Chris Hawkins as a teacher who goes from believing he can doing nothing special to help children in poverty to and inspired practitioner of a multifaceted approach to teaching. On the other hand, Payne offers much less research and just her own ideas such as the hidden rules of the three classes and her characteristics of those persons in generational poverty, both of which do feed into stereotypes and are provocative. Her critics do not give her enough credit for her chapter on “Instruction and Improving Achievment” where she does provide research-based strategies for teacher to use with students. She does include an appendix about the “additive model” by Phillip E. DeVol that talks about how many policy makers tend to use the deficit model and that holistic changes have to be made to address the challenges of poverty. Gorski and other critics seem to ignore this appendix and its inclusion in her book. Overall as a teacher, Jensen’s book resonates more with me due to its research and the way he outlines his strategies.

  16. I understand what some of Payne’s critics are saying, especially that she is making generalizations across the classes. However, while I was reading, I simply took everything with a grain of salt. I have been working with those in poverty for years now, and I have seen many of the things she describes. Do I believe that EVERY person living in poverty subscribes to her “characteristics?” No. I think she is just trying to give us a picture of why those that behave this way do. I don’t think this hurts, and there is no reason to be upset at schools for spending money on this. Schools spending money on trying to better understand those that are struggling in our schools? What is wrong with that? I am a public school counselor, and it certainly gets old hearing the negativity and contempt the public holds against schools today.

    • I too have worked with students living in poverty for several years. Because I work in the field of special education, many of my students have very complicated education plans which involve lengthy meetings. During the course of these meetings, it is often stated that the school is not doing enough to meet the needs of the student regardless of what is or is not being done at home. I feel that Payne’s book gives information to be mindful of ( not taken as an absolute for every child or parent) when making plans for students-what the child may be encountering at home, the attitude toward teachers and education and what skills need to be explicitly taught so that the child may become more successful at school. Training for educators in the area of “living in poverty” could be beneficial in building understanding and respect.

  17. I just read Payne’s book (also for a graduate course). I found it very informative. In fact, I found the issue of hidden language to be useful. I had an “aha” moment when reading about it. Being a member of the middle class, I certainly do not know all the hidden language of the upper class and would feel like a fish out of water in many situations. I never thought before how someone in poverty would feel the same way. Also, I dint it very helpful to teach students time and place. I teach all my students that there may be a time and place to swear, but my classroom isn’t it. I think on a grander scale that is what she is talking about when saying that we need to teach children all the hidden rules and the more appropriate way to handle situations in the school or work setting that may be different from the home setting. Her methodology or lack their of for her information did not bother me.

  18. I recently finished reading Payne’s book for a graduate class, and although she did have some relevant points, it seemed mostly based in institutional racism. Her portrayal of stereotypes as facts has influenced her perspectives on poverty, and how she classifies people from various socioeconomic backgrounds. What is alarming is that some people view her work as fact, and will, in their quest to achieve some type of cultural competency, integrate her beliefs into how they interact with diverse populations. Especially when dealing with children, and in the education sector. When examining her “hidden rules among the classes” it is riddled with stereotypes, generalizations, and ignorance, and it seems to be rooted in fear. Ultimately, this Framework is Payne’s perspective and should be view as that- not totally factual.

  19. I also have finished reading both Ruby Payne’s “A Framework for Understand Poverty” and Eric Jensen’s “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” for a graduate course. Payne’s book really had me nodding in agreement with some of her statements but then I was arguing with thin air on other parts. Since the introduction of her book where she answers the question “Where do you get your data from,” I have been a little uneasy with some of her statements. She answered that she has been married for 30 years to a man who grew up in poverty! This is my own opinion but does that give anyone enough credibility to say how we should ‘fix’ poverty? I’m sure she learned a lot from him but I don’t think that is enough to call her “research” research. Don’t get me wrong she does have positive ideas in mind with how to get children out of poverty but I think she needs to include the parent/guardian as part of the team along with the teachers to try and make a difference. I have to agree with many of you that Jensen does a much better job at getting his view out there. He was very positive, gave real life examples, and his information was research based. This is a big deal considering most of the arguments out there about Ruby Payne were how she didn’t have real research. Both books were really eye opening to different situations out there and I do have to say that no matter how I feel about each author they really have made me look deeper into a child’s background.

  20. I too am taking the class “In the Face of Poverty”. I have read the two book: A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne and Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.

    As I read Ruby Payne’s book, I was able to relate to many of the situations that she outlined in her book. These situations helped to explain some of the behaviors and situations that I have seen in school. Many of Ruby Payne’s critics state that she wants “to fix” students living in poverty situations and to teach them the “hidden rules” of the middle class. What I learned from these discussions is that, as educators, we need to be aware of the individual differences that studnets bring to our classrooms. As educators we should not “assume” that all students know what we are requiring. Teachers don’t need to lower their expectations but do need to make sure that all students have the understanding and resources available to be successful.

    Eric Jensen’s book Teaching with Poverty in Mind has sound research to support his theory that “chronic exposure to poverty can result in detrimental changes to the brain, the brains very ability to adapt from experience means that poor children can also experience emotional, social, and academic success”. Poverty affects students performance in school, but these effects on the brain can be changed with the SHARE model: support of the whole child, hard data, accountability, relationship building, and an enrichment mind set.

    Both books provide information that will provoke discussion amongst educators. Both authors encourage teachers to get to know your students. By getting to know the students teachers are able to diversify instruction and meet the needs of all students without lowering rigorous expectations.

  21. Many of Paynes’ideas are common knowledge for those of us who have been teaching in poverty schools for a long.
    I have been teaching at the same school for 13 years and everything about every theory of poverty has its relevance and irrelevance We need to sort out what works and doesn’t work for all students especially those in poverty. We also need to remember every students learns differently.

  22. Payne’s theory has many valid points based upon her research, and it is exactly that-her research. She has developed her own theories based upon her findings. I do believe in the hidden rules, we all have them in many aspects of the world we live in. When researching and writing on any topic, there are generalizations. It is difficult not to make groups on such a large topic. All in all, I found some eye opening research while reading her book, but as an educator we know what works for our students and what does not.

  23. I too am taking the course In the Face of Poverty. I read Jensen’ Teaching With Poverty in Mind and Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. I believe both authors bring interesting concepts to the table. I also believe both authors state far too many generalizing statements. However, that being said, both authors introduced good teaching strategies designed to move students from difficulty in school towards academic success. According to Jensen, “good teaching can mitigate the effects of low socioeconomic status and lack of school resources.”

  24. I am currently taking the course In the Face of Poverty. I read both Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty and Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind. In addition I also read an article by Paul Gorski entitled “The Myth of the Culture of Poverty”. I felt that Ruby Payne opened my eyes to possible differences between how people in different classes think and relate to the world. I feel that she offered helpful advice to teachers who work daily with students who are living in poverty. I did feel that she focused too much on stereotypes of individuals especially in her various scenarios that she presented. Eric Jensen offered research-based strategies to help teachers meet the needs of students living in poverty. He inspired me to try new ways of teaching in order to help these students be successful. After reading Gorski’s article I felt I needed to be more critical of Ruby Payne’s theories especially since they are not as research based as Jensen’s. I began to understand more why Payne is often looked at as a classist. Do I feel that her critics have merit? Yes I do. I do feel that she needs to build upon her ideas through research. I do feel that she is too stereotypical in her views and her work may in fact increase prejudices toward people living in poverty. With this said I am not sure that there is a way that Payne and her critics can reconcile. I feel that they are looking at poverty through different lenses, and are not willing to see one another’s perspectives. Ultimately I believe they all want the same thing, children living in poverty to be successful in school and in life.

  25. I’m trying to keep an open mind after reading “Frameworks For Understanding Poverty.” There are many critics of Payne as they see her claims as being stereotypical. I’d like to point out, however, is it her intent to say everyone in poverty behaves in a certain way, or is it her intent to bring awareness of possibilities? I believe it’s to bring awareness. I found the patterns of generational poverty on pages 51-53 to be an interesting read. After this list of patterns, Payne provides examples of situations people in poverty may experience. In these examples she isn’t claiming that all those in poverty experience follow all the patterns. She’s simply informing us of some experiences they may have. Actually some of these patterns can happen in any SES area such as “background noise being important”, significance of entertainment, and importance of relationships.” I think we need to view her findings as not solely about those in poverty, but about any student and family that enters our school. They all come from different backgrounds and experiences. We need to educate ourselves about the (possible) difficult situations any family may encounter.

  26. I too am currently taking the course In the Face of Poverty. I read both Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty and Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind. In addition I also read an article by Paul Gorski entitled “The Myth of the Culture of Poverty”. I felt that Ruby Payne’s checklist for which class I could survive in was eye opening to what people in poverty are dealing with on a daily basis. I had never heard of the hidden rules of poverty and have come to a realization that my students may not understand some things that are required of them and that this results in behaviors I have observed. I feel that she offered helpful advice to teachers on what resources children who are living in poverty may be lacking. I did feel that she used generalizations, but they do give me some understanding of the real life situations and why behaviors I see are occurring. The book left me feeling compassionate towards the needs of people living in poverty. Eric Jensen offered more research-based information. I felt as though he gave more specific examples of strategies to apply in the classroom. He inspired me to try new ways of teaching in order to help these students be successful. I specifically found the information on how stress can effect cognition to be useful in my understanding of students. After reading Gorski’s article, I felt that maybe I should be more critical of Payne’s book. However, I think the goal of the authors and myself is to help students living in poverty to succeed in school and life. Both books offer some useful advice of which I will use. It is important for teachers, as professionals, to filter what they read and treat each student’s needs individually. I think we are intelligent enough to do this.

  27. I am also currently taking the course In The Face of Poverty and have been introduced to Ruby Payne, Eric Jensen and Paul Gorski. I agree with Elizabeth about feeling more passionate towards students living in poverty after reading these textbooks and articles. I feel I will be much more empathetic to our students now that I have a better understanding of the reasons behind some of the negative behaviors. I think each expert has some good advice and strategies that may help us in our ultimate goal to be better educators.

  28. I have worked on a diverse campus for over 10 years and have been through Ruby Payne training. I feel the generalization and stereotypes are too much based on her times with a husband who came out of poverty. Most parents want their students to achieve, but all might not know how to help them that why educators are there to steer them in the right direction. Does it matter if I can order off a menu in different languages if I am in poverty and will not go to eat at a restaurant like that, this is only one example. We teacher students who are not the same, we need to be able to adjust our teaching so all students are involved I the learning process, if you need help do your own action research and see what is needed on your campus or in your class and make the changes.

  29. For the last 10 years I have been employed in a school district that has 65% of its student population on free and/or reduced lunch. Last year a handful of teachers suggested that we have a book talk about Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”. (I am currently working on a college class because I enjoyed the book so much. As part of the course I am required to read “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” by Eric Jensen. I have heard rave reviews about Jensen’s book. I am looking forward to comparing the two author’s information.)
    I know that Payne’s book has received much criticism, but I found some of the information helpful in understanding the students I teach. The chapter on discipline would have been helpful for my first year of teaching.
    As I read through the book there are practical ideas that I can take back to my classroom as well as share with my coworkers.

  30. I enjoyed reading Ruby’s book on poverty. Yes some of her ideas on the classes are generalizations, such as the lower class having a problem with alcohol but I like and admire how she is talking ( writing) about poverty and trying to make a difference in the world.
    It is easier to criticize her for her data and her generalizing than to come up with your own book of solutions,. She makes good points that are hopefully going to help teachers help kids. Isn’t that what it is all about?

    • Erin, thank you for leaving a comment here. The peer-reviewed research literature disproving Payne’s claims is quite extensive. And she continues to write, speak, and make money based on claims that for the most part are untrue.

      Is having good intent enough? Are teachers ‘helping kids’ if they act on untruths? Should schools and policymakers be making decisions based on falsehoods?

      I don’t think that we should follow Payne’s lead simply because she is ‘trying to make a difference in the world.’ There is other research-proven work out there – incidentally, also written by people ‘trying to make a difference in the world’ by helping students in poverty and of color – that’s based on actual evidence, not fabrications. Why wouldn’t we lean toward those solutions instead of crossing our fingers and wishing on known, data-disproven generalizations and distortions? Just because her writing resonated with you doesn’t make it true and doesn’t make it the right course of action…

  31. I am currently taking a class on poverty and just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and Eric Jenson’s book, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind”. The middle school that I teach in has changed dramatically over the last 4 years. Our community has seen the impact of the economic downturn and, in the schools, we have seen the number of students that qualify for Title One and free and reduced lunches more than double. Although I can’t say that I agree with everything that was presented in Payne’s book, I felt that it did give me a better understanding of some of the students that I work with on a daily basis. For instance, I have seen that the way many of my students living in poverty interact with each other and with the staff can be different than their middle class peers. They are often more motivated and impacted by relationship. As an educator, I can use this knowledge to understand their point of view and help them achieve academic success. While I say all of this, I do know that the book contained what many would rightfully consider to be generalizations and stereotypes. In spite of this, I believe that it is an important work and can help educators effectively work with students who are in poverty.

  32. I’m taking the course In the Face of Poverty. I had to read “A Framework for Understanding Poverty: A cognitive approach.” Although not everyone agrees with her, I feel that Payne does a great job explaining the hidden rules. Maybe everyone should take the three part quiz. This may give others, including myself, a better understanding of the challenges people in poverty face. Payne also shares a variety of strategies that I can use to become a better educator and enhance my teaching. It is my responsibility to make sure my students succeed.

  33. It seems that many educators have been so willing to accept Ruby Payne’s brand of education regarding poverty due primarily to the ever-increasing demands placed upon us to support our students and families in more and broader ways. We are constantly being told to increase what we are doing – often with little information as to HOW we might go about it. With all that pressure, it’s understandable why some might cling to such a narrow, prescriptive approach as Payne’s. Sure – it does sound awfully nice to have a “framework” laid right out for us. And if our students and their families don’t follow it? Well, then we can chalk that up to their inadequacies. Maybe it’s not totally their fault (it is often generational, of course), but it certainly is nice to not have so much accountability hanging over our heads as educators, right?

    I recently read Payne’s Framework for Understanding Poverty as part of a graduate education course. I started to get nervous upon reading the “disclaimer” in her introduction. But I tried to keep an open mind. Of course, I thought, it made sense that she might need to some generalizations to make her material as usable as possible for teachers who are simply looking for the “what” and “how,” versus too much of the “why.”

    My initial open-mindedness started to fly out the window after I took the quizzes in Chapter 3. So much of what she wrote about the “hidden rules” of the poor simply sounded reminiscent of practitioners exchanging horror stories about clients (“You wouldn’t believe what this guy did!”). Having been born and raised in a pretty disadvantaged city (Flint, Michigan), I simply could not relate to some items on the checklist. For example, “I know which grocery stores have dumpsters where I can get discarded food – and the best times to go.” At no point EVER did I know someone – even in extreme cases – to do this. How about “I know how much I will be paid for plasma donation, and how often I can donate?” People in poverty can and do figure out creative ways to make ends meet without resorting to inherently uncivilized methods. “We pay our cable bill before our rent” also irked me, as that seemed quite judgmental. Have I known people to do this? Of course. Did it need to be cited as a general rule in text? Probably not.

    Payne took an incredibly broad, difficult subject – poverty – and attempted to distill it down into far too simplistic a concept. Because of her willingness to generalize, she is able to offer very direct prescriptions for how to work with children and families who have experienced poverty – prescriptions that I feel are incomplete and risky if taken as simplistically as they are asserted. I hope that districts really do their research before hiring Payne as a consultant and spending gobs of money for her to “train” their educators in her deficit-laden brand of poverty education.

  34. I am currently taking a class on poverty and have just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. For the past sixteen years I have worked in an elementary school with over 90% of families living in poverty. I have gone on home visits and have seen firsthand the families that have no electricity, no food in the refrigerator, make shift beds created by using old, torn couch cushions, and mice scattering across the floor searching for dropped crumbs. Payne’s book gave me a better understanding of where my students are coming from. Critics are quick to point out that she is stereotyping or endorsing cultural discourse. Instead, Payne made me realize that these situations do indeed have an impact on my students when they come to school and that my role as a teacher is to offer a support system, be a positive role model, and provide meaningful opportunities to learn. As I continue to read information pertaining to education and children living in poverty, I will use Payne’s text as a guide as well as a multitude of other resources on this topic.

    • Carrie, I wonder if you could achieve your worthwhile goal of understanding the circumstances of children and families in poverty without relying on a book that has been so heavily criticized and discredited. There are other, more research-based resources out there that also would give you an understanding of where your students are coming from without resorting to gross overgeneralizations and stereotypes, no?

      As I said to Erin in an earlier comment thread:

      The peer-reviewed research literature disproving Payne’s claims is quite extensive. And she continues to write, speak, and make money based on claims that for the most part are untrue.

      Is having good intent enough? Are teachers ‘helping kids’ if they act on untruths? Should schools and policymakers be making decisions based on falsehoods?

      I don’t think that we should follow Payne’s lead simply because she is ‘trying to make a difference in the world.’ There is other research-proven work out there – incidentally, also written by people ‘trying to make a difference in the world’ by helping students in poverty and of color – that’s based on actual evidence, not fabrications. Why wouldn’t we lean toward those solutions instead of crossing our fingers and wishing on known, data-disproven generalizations and distortions? Just because her writing resonated with you doesn’t make it true and doesn’t make it the right course of action…

  35. Michael J Percie Reply May 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Ruby K. Payne’s book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” has become the seminal work for intense discussions on educating poor American children.

    Payne has her supporters and detractors in the educational community. She writes about the critical role schools play for children attempting to overcome poverty. Her “hidden rules” relating to poverty serves as a guide for today’s middle-class teachers. It provides a checklist for teachers trying to understand poor children and their families attitudes, mores and feelings.

    She attempts to show the causes of many of these thoughts from low income children. She feels that race is not always a cause of poverty. She writes that there does exist class exploitation of the poor, the poor lack fundamental human/ social capital, and their individual behavior.

    The best advice Payne gives to teachers concern building and nurturing positive and broad relationships with low income students.

    Her detractors believe that her writings often lead to making serious generalizations about the poor. They claim her earlier writings lacked scientific support. She has since added more scientific support and not just anecdotal evidence found in her first edition.

    Instead of concentrating on “hidden rules” and stereotypes, I feel that teachers should follow the following guides in working not just with the poor but all students:

    1. Have high expectations
    2. Concentrate on individual assets and not the groups
    3. Multi-cultural approach to teaching
    4. Have knowledge of child’s family/background
    5. Cultural knowledge of child and community
    6. Causes and effects of poverty
    7. Social justice

  36. I am not defending Ruby Payne, but this is her opinion on poverty. This is her research but people need to understand that this is not the only research on helping students in poverty. Yes, this book is popular and I have read this book while in graduate school many years ago, at my first educational job, and now again taking another graduate course. Being in the educational world, we know what works best for our students and our community. This is just one “framework”.

  37. I am currently enrolled in a graduate class on poverty and read Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.” Ruby Payne’s critics have merit and I believe rightfully so. I believe that Payne reinforces stereotypes and generalizations and as educators we must be very careful of this. We must look at each student’s unique situation and needs. We need to teach the whole child. It seems as though Payne’s “research” really lacks any sort of concrete evidence.

  38. I am also enrolled in the graduate class on poverty, which utilized Payne’s book and Jensen’s book as the class text. Our district also started our year off with professional development geared around Payne’s research. Much of the material was not eye opening since I have experienced many of the things in the videos or featured in Payne’s text. The quizzes were eye opening to see what I could and could not survive in. The text was easy to read, but I also thought more suggestions could be made on ways to deal with some of the issues that were presented in the book and that we face as teachers. I do agree with previous comments that some characterizations of those in poverty seemed stereotypical and not characteristics of all the families I come into contact with. The book would lend itself as a resource for a book study for teachers. Overall it served as a resource to allow me to continue to reflect on my teaching and to meet the needs of ALL of the students I teach.


  1. The Best Critiques Of Ruby Payne | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… - January 23, 2012

    […] and others which I think have been overly ideological. Here’s a comment I left on Scott McLeod’s blog a few years ago during a conversation about […]

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