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Noted scholar of urban schooling joins faculty at School of Social Service Administration

June 8, 2007

Charles Payne, one of the nation’s most prominent scholars in the study of urban school reform and social inequality, has been named the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He will also serve as a member of the University’s Committee on Education.

Payne, whose work has also looked at the civil rights movement and issues of social change, is the author of a number of important books on inequality and urban school reform.

“We are delighted to welcome Charles Payne to the faculty of the School of Social Service Administration,” said Dean Jeanne C. Marsh. “His pathbreaking scholarship and authentic commitment to the intersection of theory and practice will advance the agenda of the School and the University. Faculty members at SSA are leading discovery about the community and social supports required for effective learning in urban environments. Professor Payne has much to add to this effort.”

Among his works are Getting What We Ask For: The Ambiguity of Success and Failure in Urban Education (1984), which looks at the variety of ways problem students can respond to different teachers; and I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (2nd ed., 2007), which is a story of the civil rights movement from the activists’ point of view. He is co-author of Debating the Civil Rights Movement (2nd ed., 2006) and Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850-1950 (2003).

Payne has received a number of awards for I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, including the Outstanding Academic Book from the magazine Choice, the Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in the United States, the Lillian Smith Award from the Southern Regional Council and the McLemore Prize from the Mississippi Historical Society. He also received an Outstanding Academic Book award from Choice for Getting What We Ask For.

“I don’t think of myself so much in disciplinary terms as I think of myself as a just student of social change, especially bottom-up change, especially as it affects African Americans,” he said. “I have spent most of my career pursuing those questions in the context of the civil rights movement and urban school improvement.”

Payne received a B.A. in Afro-American Studies in 1970 from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1976 from Northwestern University.

He joins the University faculty after having served as Professor of African and African American Studies and History and Bass Fellow at Duke, where he has been a faculty member since 1998. He previously served as Professor of African-American studies at Northwestern, and was on the faculties of Haverford College, Williams College and Southern University.

From 1982 to 1986, Payne was the Executive Director of the Urban Education Project in Orange, New Jersey. As the founding director, he was responsible for program and curriculum development as well as fundraising and staff supervision.

“I left academia partly because I was interested in seeing just how much I actually knew about working in an urban environment,” he said.

The program in Orange connected disadvantaged students with careers based on technology. His work there increased his interest in school reform, a research focus that continued after he moved to Chicago to become a faculty member at Northwestern. Payne said that his appointment to SSA would provide him with more opportunities to pursue his interests in school reform.

“Several faculty members there have some interest in social capital and its implications for institutions that serve the disadvantaged,” he said. “My work in schools has left me with an interest in both macro- and micro-social work as ways to deepen school change,” he continued.

“We are beginning to learn a lot about the limits of purely academic supports for children, and I now need a context in which people are thinking about other kinds of support and how they can be delivered.”

Payne will continue several projects after becoming a faculty member at SSA. He is finishing a book entitled So Much Reform, So Little Change, which looks at the ways in which reform is undermined by weak social and political infrastructure coupled with the inability of adults to cooperate.

He is completing an anthology, Teach Freedom, which is concerned with the African-American tradition of education for liberation.

He is also working on a book, Fragile Victories, which looks at the vulnerability of school improvements. “While there are good things out there, they are ordinarily not deeply rooted,” he explained.

With the support of the Carnegie Corporation, he is conducting a study of school reform and social inequality in other countries. He is also the recipient of a Senior Scholar grant from the Spencer Foundation and a Resident Fellow at the foundation for 2006-7.

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Last modified at 11:09 AM CST on Monday, July 23, 2007

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