Magazine Feature

Toolkit for "Questioning Payne"

This toolkit for “Questioning Payne” offers ways to shift your school from a deficit-based mind-set to an equity literacy model. 

Critics say that Dr. Ruby Payne’s work perpetuates stereotypes about people in poverty and reinforces a teacher mind-set that couples low-income students with a set of classroom deficiencies. Moving away from Payne’s model requires that educators shift their philosophies and practices when working with students in poverty. The equity literacy model offers an alternative to Payne’s framework.

The suggestions below help you bring equity literacy into your school’s professional development plans.


Essential Question

  1. How can my school integrate equity literacy into its professional development?



Are teachers committed to the principles of equity literacy?

Administer this Teaching Tolerance survey anonymously, and then collect the data. Share results and the handout "Equity Literacy Principles for Educators of Students in Poverty," written by Paul C. Gorski, with teachers. Discuss:

  • To which principles are you or your colleagues most committed?
  • To which principles are you or your colleagues least committed?

Use the data from the TT survey to determine a starting point for equity literacy work in your school.


Do teachers have the skills to practice equity literacy?

Equity literacy is built on four core skills. Download this handout, which lists them. With the findings of your equity literacy survey in mind, form working groups to develop your school’s capacity in each of these skill areas.


What can we read to learn more about equity literacy?


Gorski, Paul C. 2013. Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap. Multicultural education series (New York City: Teachers College Press).

Gorski, Paul C., and Julie Landsman. 2014. The Poverty and Education Reader: A Call for Equity in Many Voices. First edition. (Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC).

Blog posts and magazine stories

Ching, Jacqueline. "The Poverty Myth." Teaching Tolerance magazine, Spring 2012.

Gorski, Paul C. "Imagining Equity Literacy." Teaching Tolerance blog, April 10, 2014.

Gorski, Paul C., and Katy Swalwell. "Equity Literacy for All." Educational Leadership, March 2015.

Swalwell, Katy. "Why Our Students Need Equity Literacy." Teaching Tolerance blog, December 21, 2011.

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