For decades, Charles Payne has been one of the most influential scholars nationally in the field of education.
Among his many awards and accolades, Payne, who is the Henry Rutgers Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies and Executive Director of the Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies, has been named to Edu-Scholars’ list of scholars “contributing most substantially to public debates about education” every year from 2015 to 2020.
This year is no different.
Payne was recently included in the 2024 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, published by Education Week magazine, coming in at no. 64. The ranking, created by Rick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, lists the 200 university-based scholars in the United States who do the most each year to shape educational practice and policy.
By Payne’s account, this is his eighth appearance on the list.
"It is gratifying that colleagues and practitioners find one’s work useful,” said Payne. “There are upwards of 20,000 university-based education scholars, so these rankings are intended to capture something like to top 1% based on the degree to which one’s work is cited in public and scholarly venues and is visible among a group of established scholars.”
Payne is also the embodiment of a publicly engaged scholar.
He arrived at RU-N in 2017 as Henry Rutgers Professor and has been an affiliated faculty of RU-N's Department of Urban Education since 2022 and last month became an affiliate of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers–New Brunswick.
As director of the Cornwall Center, Payne oversees a staff of 15 researchers, program directors and administrators who work closely with local community partners, philanthropic organizations, and the public sector on studying and developing policy and interventions focusing on community development, with a special focus on urban and regional K-12 education. In the spirit of an authentic think-do-tank, Cornwall puts research into action by incubating what it calls promising “demonstration projects” that show how findings translate into impactful social interventions, at the same time sharing its research and outcomes in ways that are accessible to community stakeholders, policy makers, scholars and the general public.
Payne sees this work as also essential to his continued presence on the RHSU list.
“The Cornwall Center has been deeply involved, with its community partners, in work around school desegregation and school change,” Payne said.
A Lifetime of Publicly Engaged Scholarship
Payne has been doing this type of engaged scholarship his entire career.
From 2010 to 2017, he was the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, a faculty affiliate at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and a member of the school’s Committee on Education. While there, Payne served for eight years as Acting Executive Director of Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community, which established a range of developmental supports for youth, including out-of-school learning opportunities such as CDF Freedom Schools and pre-schools, along with development for teachers and parents. He also served a short stint in spring 2011 as Interim Chief Education Officer for the Chicago Public Schools.
From 1998 to 2007, Payne was Professor of African and African American Studies and History, and the Bass Fellow, at Duke University. For most of that time, he was jointly appointed in Sociology and was a Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Child and Family Policy at what is now the Sanford School of Public Policy, and served as Director of the African and African American Studies Program.
Prior to that for just over a decade (1986-1997), Payne moved from Assistant to full Professor of African American Studies at his alma mater, Northwestern University, where he’d completed his Ph.D. in Sociology (1976). There he was jointly appointed in Sociology, and Education and Social Policy.
In the early-to-mid-’80s, Payne founded and served as Executive Director of Urban Education Project in Orange, NJ, a nonprofit community center providing urban youth with broadened educational experiences. For nearly a decade before that, he taught Sociology at Southern University, Williams College, and Haverford College
In addition, Payne is one of the leaders of the Freedom School Project, which advocates the creation of educational spaces that are affirmative, dignity-centered and agency-building. He was among the founders of the Education for Liberation Network and co-directed the Carter G. Woodson Institute, which involved University of Chicago faculty in the professional development of Chicago Public School teachers.
Payne is the author, co-author or editor of seven books, with three more in process. They include So Much Reform, So Little Change, (2008) which examines the persistence of failure in urban schools; the anthology Teach Freedom: The African American Tradition of Education for Liberation (2008), which addresses education as a tool for liberation from Reconstruction through Black Panther Liberation Schools; and I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (1995).
He also has won a number of teaching awards, including being named to the Bass Society of Fellows for Excellence in Teaching and Research at Duke University and holding the Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern.
Rutgers University Excels
Payne was one of four Rutgers scholars named to the RHSU list this year. The others are Steven Barnett, Marybeth Gasman and Nicole Mirra from Rutgers–New Brunswick.
Barnett, an economist, is Board of Governors Professor of Education, focusing on economics and policy, and Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). His research includes studies of the economics of early care and education including costs and benefits, the long-term effects of preschool programs on children’s learning and development, and the distribution of educational opportunities.
Gasman is Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education and a Distinguished Professor. She is the Executive Director of both the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity, and Justice, and the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions, and is one of the leading authorities in the country on historically Black colleges (HBCUs).
Mirra, an Associate Professor of Urban Teacher Education, focuses her research and teaching on combining the fields of literacy and youth civic engagement to create social change and justice in classrooms and society.
Rutgers’ overrepresentation on this year’s list was not lost on Payne.
“I don’t believe Rutgers has had four people named before. That’s very unusual, perhaps unprecedented,” he said.