IT WAS AS IF D.C. Councilman John Ray had done something unthinkable when he said he'd like to hold hearings next month on the state of public education in this city. For mostly petty jurisdictional and bureaucratic reasons, the reaction of his fellow elected officials ranged from lukewarm to downright chilly. It wasn't that Mr. Ray was suggesting that the mere holding of hearings would raise the quality of the public schools. He just happens to believe - correctly - that what does or doesn't go on in the classrooms is related to other important objectives of the city, such as the development of a stronger local economy with a skilled, tax-paying work force and fewer welfare clients.

While other council and school board members would not quarrel with that, their generally myopic reaction had more to do with whether Mr. Ray or the council might interfere with or otherwise threaten the school board's cherished prerogatives. But that kind of narrow thinking is precisely why a fresh community examination of the public school system is in order - to rise above factional and jurisdictional disputes. Mr. Ray says his purpose is not to denigrate the school system or to find scapegoats for any failures. Instead, he hopes to raise the level of community interest in the schools beyond the usual parent-teacher-school board groups.

Why not? And while Mr. Ray is at it, there is an important question that should be thought about and discussed: In view of the performance of the school boards over the years, should the elected school board be abolished? If so, should there be an appointed board? Or should education be administered by a department under the mayor? In any event, what effect would any of these changes have on what happens in classrooms? In spite of the pettiness, incompetence and infighting that has prompted some citizen calls for an end to the elected boards, there is much to be said for the direct election of citizens. Neither the appointment of members nor the control of schools under City Hall would guarantee improvements. But these and other changes do deserve the kind of airing that Mr. Ray seeks to give them next month.