Research & Biography

Charles M. Payne is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor in the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, where he is also an affiliate of the Urban Education Institute. His interests include urban education and school reform, social inequality, social change, and modern African American history. He is the author of Getting What We Ask For: The Ambiguity of Success and Failure In Urban Education (1984) and I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement (1995). The latter has won awards from the Southern Regional Council, Choice Magazine, the Simon Wisenthal Center and the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America. He is co-author of Debating the Civil Rights Movement (1999) and co-editor of Time Longer Than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850-1950 (2003).

His So Much Reform, So Little Change (Harvard Education Publishing Group) is concerned with what we have learned about the persistence of failure in urban districts. The co-edited anthology, Teach Freedom: The African American Tradition of Education For Liberation (Teachers College Press) is concerned with education premised on collective empowerment and social justice. That theme is further developed in one of his current book projects, Nobody’s Fault but Mine: The Future – Past of Black Education (Beacon Press). Another current project, Schooling the Ghetto: Fifty Years of Reforming Urban Schools returns to some of the themes raised in So Much Reform, trying to develop a strategic synthesis about what we have learned about urban schools since that book was published. It will argue, in part, that scholars have persisted in framing questions in ways that make it difficult to learn from the work of the best practitioners. This work has been supported by a fellowship from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.  

Payne is the recipient of a Senior Scholar grant from the Spencer Foundation and is a Resident Fellow at the foundation for 2006-07. With the support of the Carnegie Foundation, he is exploring how schooling for minorities in France, the United Kingdom and Hungary compares to the United States. His work on urban schools has also been supported by an Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for 2007-08. Fletcher fellowships support work that contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. During the 2016-17 academic year, he delivered the Tisch Distinguished Lectures, at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Payne has been a member of the Board of the Chicago Algebra Project, of the Steering Committee for the UChicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, the Research Advisory Committee for the Chicago Annenberg Project, the editorial boards of Catalyst, the Sociology of Education and Educational Researcher. He has served on the Board of MDRC, the editorial board of High School Journal, and the advisory board for Teacher College Press' series on social justice. He is the co-founder of the Duke Curriculum Project, which involves university faculty in the professional development of public school teachers and also co-founder of the John Hope Franklin Scholars, which tries to better prepare high school youngsters for college. He is among the founders of the Education for Liberation Network, which encourages the development of educational initiatives that encourage young people to think critically about social issues and understand their own capacity for addressing them.

Payne was founding director of the Urban Education Project in Orange, New Jersey, a nonprofit community center that broadens educational experiences for urban youngsters. He served for two years as acting executive director of the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community in Chicago, a neighborhood-based attempt to improve life-outcomes for urban youth. He served briefly as Chief Education Officer for Chicago Public Schools. He has taught at Southern University, Williams College, Northwestern University and Duke University. He has won several teaching awards and at Northwestern, he held the Charles Deering McCormick Chair for Teaching Excellence and at Duke, the Sally Dalton Robinson Chair for excellence in teaching and research.

Payne holds a bachelor's degree in Afro-American studies from Syracuse University and a doctorate in sociology from Northwestern.