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Education Guru Ruby Payne: Is She Wrong About Kids In Poverty, Or Misunderstood?

Education consultant Ruby Payne makes the point that the rich are different. And so, by the way, are the poor.

There’s no crime, she said, in articulating these realities as a way of confronting the cultural gap that separates middle-class teachers from children’s hardscrabble communities. Such understanding helps students succeed in school and better their chances of escaping poverty, she argued.

There’s just one problem: A vocal group of people say there is something wrong with Payne’s message. Their ranks include authors, professors, activists and a retired educator who filed a complaint about Hillsborough County with the federal government.

Books have been written, forums organized and blogs built to tear down Payne’s work, prompting some districts to shy away because of the controversy. Yet her writings continue to surface in teacher training programs.

The criticism in a nutshell: Payne provides intellectual shortcuts, a fast-food lunch of sociology that reinforces one of the most dangerous behaviors in public education — teachers looking down on their students.