Parents who visited Robert Frost Elementary School in New Carrollton yesterday found that some things about grade school have not changed. Students still subscribe to The Weekly Reader. The old chorus, "Cockles and mussels alive, alive-o," is still sung in music class, and in Rose Montgomery's first grade, repetition is still used to teach reading.

"What are those words called?" asked Montgomery of her students.

"Quotation marks, quotation marks, quotation marks," the 6-year-olds replied in unison.

"She's an old-time school teacher," said a beaming Harriet Oliver, who lives in New Carrollton. "She's great." Oliver was one of thousands of parents visiting their childrens' classrooms yesterday as Prince George's County and schools all across the country opened their doors as part of American Education Week, a time when teachers and students show what it is they do all day all year long. Last year, 22,000 parents attended in Prince George's, and school spokesman Kathy Snyder said she wouldn't be surprised if more come this year.

"I think that in light of the budget cuts the parents realize that they have to get into the classroom and see what's going on," said Snyder.

What parents have seen at Robert Frost over the years was enough to make Anne Chaires take her 6-year-old daughter, Meridith, out of private school and enroll her in Robert Frost. "This is better than the private school she was going to, believe it or not," said Chaires, a computer programmer.

Robert Frost is a 10-year-old school in a quiet middle-income subdivision. Its student population is about half white, half black. Its students score slightly above average on national tests. It is the kind of good school Prince George's County school officials say they must maintain in the face of increasingly tight budgets. In Prince George's, 507 teachers were laid off last June and the school system is once again threatened with severe budget cuts.

But at mid-morning yesterday, the 27 students in Montgomery's class were oblivious to school budgets or visitors. A blond girl lay on her back in a purple tepee reading a green book. Next to her, a brown-skinned girl sat at a solitary desk urgently working a math puzzle with pegs and blocks. One group colored at their desks and another read with Montgomery.

For the week, the hallways at Robert Frost were adorned with bunting and crepe and patriotic variations on the theme, "A Strong Nation Needs Strong Schools." And a short essay by 11-year-old Perdita Wooten on "why education is important to me" summed up not only the view of a child, but those of many parents:

"An education is not just a piece of paper. An education is your whole life." graphics /photo: By Ray Lustig--TWP Bundled against the cold, these members of the Capitol Wheelchair Athletic Association took part in the American Education Week parade on Constitution Avenue yesterday.