Someone you need to know


He taught a message of the need to help those less fortunate, while coming from a working class background himself.

I’ve heard it said that anyone who wants to understand education, student achievement and race relations needs to understand his work.

This Sunday I get to speak at a memorial service for him, a celebration of his life.

I wish I didn’t have to do that; I wish he were still here.  There’s so much more to learn.

Robert L. Crain, TC Expert on Desegregation, Is Dead at 82

A passionate believer in school integration who applied the most rigorous criteria in assessing its benefits

Robert L. Crain

Teachers College sociologist Robert Crain, who conducted some of the earliest large-scale quantitative studies demonstrating the positive impacts of school and neighborhood desegregation, died in March at age 82.

Crain, along with Jomills Braddock, Willis Hawley and James McPartland, was among a small group of pioneering sociologists who worked to convince the federal and state governments not to roll back the racial protections that had been accorded blacks through the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v Board of Education and the subsequent passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He is perhaps best known for his various contributions to research on the benefits of school desegregation for students and society. For example, much of his work added weight to Perpetuation Theory, which predicts that young people who attend racially segregated schools are likely, as adults, to hold jobs in segregated workplaces and to live in segregated neighborhoods.

“Bob was a true champion of racial equality who played a key role in getting desegregation research established and recognized and then building a body of knowledge on desegregation’s impact.”
— Amy Stuart Wells

Crain also gave expert testimony in numerous court cases on desegregation, including on behalf of plaintiffs in Connecticut’s famous Sheff v. O’Neill case, who charged that the state’s system of separate city and suburban school districts had created racially segregated schools and violated their children’s rights to equal opportunity. His books and articles were also frequently cited, including Tuttle v. Arlington County School Board, a Virginia case which considered whether an “oversubscribed” public school may use a weighted lottery in admissions to promote racial and ethnic diversity in its student body.

“Bob was a true champion of racial equality who  played a key role in getting desegregation research established and recognized and then building a body of knowledge on desegregation’s impact,” said Amy Stuart Wells, TC Professor of Sociology & Education, who was Crain’s doctoral student. “He was doing this work at a time when very little desegregation had occurred because of all the foot-dragging.”

In a meta-analysis titled “Perpetuation Theory and the Long-term Effects of Desegregation,” published in the Winter 1994 issue of Review of Educational Research, he and coauthor Amy Stuart Wells drew on findings from 21 studies to refute the notion, increasingly embraced in policy circles at that time, that school integration had been a failure because it had not produced immediate academic benefits.

“Because educational achievement alone does not solve the problem of economic inequality, school desegregation must do more than raise black students’ test scores,” Crain and Wells wrote. “It must also break the cycle of racial segregation that leaves blacks and whites worlds apart. In our study of network analysis, we are inspired by the old adage that who you know is as important (or even more important) in social mobility as what you know; we believe, therefore, that the lawyers and civil rights advocates of the 1940s and 50s knew what they were talking about. The social network advantages of desegregated schools for African-American students is real, even though it could not be measured in time to satisfy policymakers who have lost sight of the original goals of desegregation.”

Crain, who retired in 2004 as TC Professor of Sociology & Education, was unabashed in his belief in the rightness of desegregation.

“He really shone in working with you one on one, thinking through the complex problems…We had to send our computer programs with our research data to the center in those days and get back these giant dot matrix outputs. He’d roll up his sleeves and work with you on it.”
— Will Jordan

“I remember analyzing a big data set, and I saw some small correlations on the race of kids, integrated settings and achievement,” recalls Will Jordan (Ph.D. ’93), Associate Professor of Urban Education Policy, Organizational, & Leadership Studies at Temple University.  “Bob said, it’s small, but it’s a pattern. The black kids are doing better, the white kids aren’t hurt by it. But even if that weren’t true, we should still desegregate. So he felt there was a moral imperative toward equality in education, and the fact you’re not hurt is just gravy.”

Yet his research was scrupulously rigorous in seeking to correct for any factors that could unduly exaggerate integration’s benefits.  In studies of American inter-districts – eight urban-suburban areas nationwide (including Boston, St. Louis and Hartford) that enable students to move across district lines with the specific aim of attending integrated schools – he compared subsets of students who had been either admitted or denied admission via a lottery.

Similarly, Crain emerged as an expert on magnet schools, which became the mechanism of choice for school integration during the 1980s and 90s, because the student bodies of magnet schools in Manhattan were composed of the top 6 percent of performers taking a test, the bottom six percent and a random selection of those in the middle.  The random assignment of students to integrated schools both in Hartford and New York City provided contexts that made these settings the best places to study effects on students.

“The lottery selection enabled him to control for the self-selection factor — the idea that if you put your kids on a bus to go across town, you’re by definition a more involved parent,” says Wells. “By controlling for that, his findings were even more robust.”

Robert L. Crain was born into an impoverished family in Louisville, Kentucky.

“He and I were both Southerners who either witnessed or experienced prejudice and segregation,” said Prudence Carter (M.A. ’95), Jacks Family Professor of Education and Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, who will  become Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley this coming June. “I can’t help but think that motivated him in his work.”

Crain earned an undergraduate degree in math and engineering from the University of Louisville in 1957, studied math at the graduate level at the University of North Carolina, and received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1964.

“Bob was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, because the University of Chicago then was creating a new, mathematical branch of sociology, and he was able to get in on the ground floor,” said his wife, Nan Guptill Crain, Professor of Music at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

“He and I were both Southerners who either witnessed or experienced prejudice and segregation. I can’t help but think that motivated him in his work.”
— Prudence Carter

Peter Rossi, a professor at the University of Chicago, hired Crain first as a doctoral fellow and then as an Assistant Professor of Sociology in 1963, a post that for the next five years he held concurrently with a position as Senior Study Director at the National Opinion Research Center. In 1968 he became Associate Professor in the Department of Social Relations at Johns Hopkins University, the same year that he published his classic text, The Politics of School Integration: Comparative Case Studies; (1968), which frames decisions to desegregate by 15 northern and southern cities as being rooted in the economic, social, and political structure of the community. He left in 1973 to serve for five years as Senior Social Scientist At the Rand Corporation, returning to Hopkins in in 1978 as Principal Research Scientist at the university’s Center for Social Organization of Schools. In 1982, he coauthored another landmark book, Making Desegregation Work: How Schools Create Social Climates, and three years later joined TC’s faculty.

“Bob was an unfailingly generous scholar, educator and guide. He blazed trails, he listened patiently, he carried himself humbly, and he always found something to laugh about. He had a big heart to go with his great brain.”
— Xavier de Souza Briggs

He is universally described by former students as the classic absent-minded professor – dressed in tweed blazer and rumpled oxford shirts, often with a pen left uncapped in the breast pocket, with predictably disastrous results.  He was known as an especially committed advisor who was generous in creating research opportunities for students and strongly supported advisees through the dissertation process. In addition to Wells, Jordan and Carter, his students over the years included Xavier de Souza Briggs, Professor of Sociology and Planning at MIT and currently on leave serving as the Ford Foundation’s Vice President for Economic Opportunity and Markets; Carter M. Stewart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.

“Bob was an unfailingly generous scholar, educator and guide,” said Briggs. “He blazed trails, he listened patiently, he carried himself humbly, and he always found something to laugh about. He had a big heart to go with his great brain.”

“I’ll be forever indebted to Bob for involving me in the Yonkers Project on Families and Communities, which he co-PI’d,” says Carter. “It was my first year as a graduate student, and it gave me the richest possible experience in interview design, survey design and field experience.”

“He really shone in working with you one on one, thinking through the complex problems,” Jordan recalls. “There was an old gym on upstairs in Thompson Hall in those days, and sometimes, because I worked fulltime at TC, I’d go up there in the middle of the day and grab a ball and shoot around. He’d often join me in his blazer and wingtips. Also, we had to send our computer programs with our research data to the center in those days and get back these giant dot matrix outputs. He’d roll up his sleeves and work with you on it.”

Crain saw the field he helped create take some daunting turns. Beginning in 1974, when the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges could not order desegregation remedies that send students across urban-suburban district boundaries without substantial, hard-to-document evidence that the suburban districts actually create racial segregation, through to the Court’s 2007 decision that that public school systems could no longer seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures that take explicit account of a student’s race, policymakers largely ignored the thrust of his research findings. Yet he continued to produce a body of research that, on a broader level, has remained central to discussions of race and educational equity.

“I once came back from a data collection project where I’d done lots of interviews with white people who just didn’t get the importance of integration,” Wells recalled. “I was venting about that, and he said, ‘Amy, the problem with most people is that they’re not sociologists. They don’t look at the macro level, so they don’t understand the structural inequalities, the patterns that get repeated.’ And I tell that story to my TC students, because it really gets at the importance of what we, as sociologists, do and how we can contribute.” – Joe Levine

Published Friday, Apr. 8, 2016

Thanks for nothing, Gov. Christie


The NCQA ratings for quality of health insurance plans are out.  The best plan in NJ ranks 60th in the US.  That’s another reason to move from the Garden State.

The blame for that falls directly on the Governor’s insurance commissioner.  For example, there are higher rated plans from Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts than in NJ.  Why exactly should the Delaware River affect the quality of health plans available?

Of course, Christie is advising Trump, and that may explain why Trump’s health proposals are so bad.  (See prior post.)



Healthcare: this election could kill you


This has got to be the least sexy title for a blog, but its one of the most important I’ve written this year.thmywnvasd

Both candidates’ proposals raise the Federal Deficit by over $100 billion.  What’s the difference?


  • Hillary extends coverage to an additional 9 million people.
  • With Trump, 20 million people lose coverage and the cost of plans increase by between $300 and $2,500 per year.

This is analysis by Rand Corporation, an independent government think tank not affiliated with either party.

Trump was supposed to be fixing what??


Some Dreams . . .


I love this poem, written by Lyn.

Tumbling © Lyn Crain


Here I am,

the hero of my empire

in this long shadow

of being mortal.

I contain multitudes

in this pigeon tunnel

that I once believed was

an ivory tower

before my downfall.

The power of I am,

me before you. I became

a stranger in my own mind

absurd and realistic.

Maybe or maybe not,

a timeless observer or

an unhinged loner,

a train wreck for sure

after you!

A great reckoning with

the best of words

my breath became air,

apprenticed in death.

I let you go

my runaway dream.


Leprosy in the US — Really


No, this isn’t a political joke.  Two children in California have been determined to have the disease, which is caused by infection by Mycobacterium leprae.  The  disease, also called Hansen’s Disease, was confirmed by testing at the CDC Lab in Louisiana.

The signature of the disease is the occurrence of skin lesions, and a person may also lose sensation in the area of the lesion.  To have this crop up is surprising.  It’s not a diagnosis that your doctor is likely to expect if you show up in his office with these symptoms.

A source of great fear among the ancients, the disease is treatable by a course of antibiotic of up to two years in duration.  No fun for the kids for sure.

Where did it come from?  Good question.


Miller, Sara, “Leprosy Found in California Child: How Doctors Diagnosed It,” Live Science, 23 Sept. 2015.



Cops, Brain Injuries and Bullets


tulsa_cnnA different look at the role of traumatic brain injury in police shootings.

One (possibly more) of the victims of recent police shootings had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Several bloggers who are victims of TBI are now expressing fear of interacting with police — fear that they too might be killed.

Traumatic brain injury can affect sufferers in a variety of ways.  Some common effects include:

  • Speed in processing instructions
  • Reaction time to stimuli
  • Emotions

What appears to have happened is that a police officer in a confrontation gives an order to someone who does not respond to the order promptly.  The officer interprets the non-reaction as hostility and it escalates from there into a shooting.

TBI patients may not react promptly, and the non-reaction indicates nothing more than that they are having trouble processing the instructions.  They don’t deserve to die for that.  They are already suffering enough.

However, as is often the case, there’s another dimension to this picture that no one has discussed.  Think about the problems of undiagnosed or under-diagnosed concussions.  Police themselves often have military or athletic backgrounds, and we are only now coming to terms with concussions in sports.  The VA has a history of overlooking concussion injuries in vets (1), and finally released the Concussion Coach mobile app to help vets with deal with concussions in 2014 (2, 3).

Further, police can and do sustain head injuries and concussions on the job.  In a recent case in Norfolk, Virginia, a police recruit died after suffering head blows during training (4).

In the case of a Seattle officer who stomped on the head of a person in handcuffs, the officer was exonerated of wrong doing after a determination that he had sustained a low level concussion that affected is actions (5).

The problem with concussions is that they often present little or no external appearance of damage.  Why is that a problem?

  • A lot of people still believe that, in the absence of external injury, a claim of concussion is just a convenient excuse.
  • Fellow officers may see the cop claiming a concussion as a malingerer, and reporting a concussion might affect future promotion opportunities.
  • Fear of stigma can cause both civilians and officers to shun seeking treatment.

Here’s the point:  we probably have a lot of officers walking around with undiagnosed or untreated concussions that are affecting their thinking, emotions, reaction time and behavior.  Administrative reforms as in Norfolk are designed to protect prisoners, but there is no effort to screen officers for brain damage.

So we can have situations in which an impaired officer is confronting an impaired civilian.  Just how much good is going to come from that?

To fix a problem, you have to get to root causes.  And its not all about racism, as we have had black officers shooting black suspects.  Its time to look deeper at causes, and TBI should be considered as one of them.



  1. Alvarex, Lizette, “War Veterans’ Concussions Are Often Overlooked,” The New York Times.  August, 25, 2008.
  2.  Peterson, Hans, “Help with Concussions in Veterans Hands Today,”  Veterans Administration,  17 April 2014.
  3. Veterans Administration.
  4. Kulbarsh, Pamela, “Concussions: More Than a Smack Upside the Head,”  21 June 2012.
  5. Thalen, Mikael, “Seattle Police Chief Says Concussion Made Officer Stomp Handcuffed Man’s Head,”, 4 June 2014.

Second Opinions and Autism


StarryNight_by_Van_GoghI’ve made the point in several posts about the need for second opinions.  Doctors are human, which means they aren’t perfect:




  • The amount of new material for doctors to read in their own specialty amounts to several hours every night, and many just don’t put in the time after a long day of seeing patients.
  • Like most people, doctors tend to base diagnoses in part on the symptoms the patient presents and in part on what they expect to see.  In flu season, they are more like to see patients as having the flu than to order tests for meningitis.  Teachers, car mechanics and parents do the same thing.  It’s a coping mechanism for dealing with too many choices.

I reported in a previous post about having a grandson who was diagnosed at 2 as having Asperger’s.  Almost 10 years later, a different doctor ran a CAT scan and found scar tissue from a stroke.  Once therapists starting treating him as a stroke victim, he made amazing progress in both education and social skills.  However, he lost 10 years of his childhood due to the error.

His introduction to a speech therapist with substantial experience in treating both autism and stroke victims allowed the error to be discovered.

How common are strokes in children?

It turns out that stoke is one of the top 10 causes of death in children (1).  However, many parents and doctors don’t think about stroke when a child’s behavior changes.  Strokes are particularly common among

  • Children under age 2
  • Boys
  • African American children

The strokes that are known are usually those that are fatal.  Because of misdiagnosis and the lack of universal medical screening for children in the US, we don’t know just how common non-fatal strokes are.

(The lack of universal medical screening for children is also what allows children to die from undetected heart conditions while playing sports.)

Autism can also be confused with a range of other psychological conditions (2).

A child can have an autism spectrum disorder, and a lot of people do.  However, that can also be a lazy diagnosis from a doctor who doesn’t want to dig deep enough to find the truth.

Second opinions matter!



(1) National Stroke Association.

(2) WebMD. “Other Conditions With Symptoms Similar to Autism”.

(3) International Alliance for Pediatric Stroke.

(4) Adam Kirton, MD, MSc, FRCPC, “Stroke in Children,” Child Neurology Foundation.

(5) Daniel  Tsze and Jonathan Valente, “Pediatric Stroke: a review,” Emerg Med Int. 2011; 2011: 734506.