Without a world-class public education for all our nation's children, we face decline and disaster.

Paul L. Tractenberg and Alan R. Sadovnik are the board of governors distinguished service professor of law and professor of education, sociology and public affairs at Rutgers, Newark, respectively, where they are co-directors of the Institute on Education Law and Policy.

BARACK OBAMA assumes the presidency facing extraordinary challenges. We understand that some may be more dramatic and appear more pressing than the status of American education. But for a half century we have understood that education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. In today's global world, the federal government, too, has awesome educational responsibilities.

Without a world-class public education for all our nation's children, we face decline and disaster, not by terrorist act or stock market collapse, but by steady, incremental, inexorable erosion of our national capacity to produce and to compete.

We could write a book on how our education system falls short, and what the president could do about it. Instead, we focus briefly on what President Obama can do immediately to begin addressing three linked national problems with important symbolic as well as tangible aspects:

* Inequality of educational opportunity.

Despite decades of efforts, mainly through state courts, to equalize educational funding within individual states, most states still have serious inequality, harming mainly poor and disadvantaged children. There is an equally severe problem of educational inequality that has received less attention — resource and educational differences among states. Just as we have first-class and second-class educational citizens within states, we have first-class and second-class states.

A full copy of the report is available at:


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