THE TERRIBLE feuding and fussing that hobbled efforts to improve public education in Prince George's County ended with the creation of a new and demonstrably better board that took office June 1. No longer did Superintendent Iris T. Metts have to endure the obstructionist hazing of self-absorbed overseers; the fresh and far more talented faces on the new board wisely opted to retain Ms. Metts as temporary schools chief pending a national search for a permanent chief executive officer. Ms. Metts has said she would be interested in the job, and the board's chairman, Beatrice P. Tignor, said in a recent interview with Post writer Nancy Trejos that while "there are no favorites," if Ms. Metts wants to apply, her application will be considered by the search firm that the board has hired.
Six months of picking up the pieces strewn by the old board and refocusing on the challenges of a fast-growing, low-scoring school system is not long enough for a good test of how the new board or Ms. Metts is doing. The news since June is generally disheartening, though not directly attributable to the new regime. Test scores on a new state exam that high school students will be required to pass before earning a diploma starting in 2007 were dismal, prompting a disappointed Ms. Metts to call for greater efforts to encourage more rigorous courses and more fully certified teachers in the classrooms. Plans will include strengthening high school remedial reading and math programs.
Should those have been in place long before today's high school students started secondary education? Sure, but since Ms. Metts's arrival in 1999, most of the attention has been focused on elementary school changes that are now in place but still have not had time to produce positive results. These include smaller classes in grades K through 3, mandatory summer school and all-day kindergarten, as well as more competitive teacher salaries, a greater number of certified teachers and a better bus system. One positive sign has been slightly higher scores on the elementary-level Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.
Is there perfect harmony in the new board's relationship with Iris Metts? No, Ms. Tignor says, the board has problems getting necessary information "in a timely manner," including updates on ballooning school enrollments and estimates of the costs of restructuring the county's magnet school program. Those are rough spots that the administration must move promptly to correct. The understandable impatience of everyone in Prince George's County for measurable progress in the public schools may be aggravated by complex financial and administrative shortcomings. But like the students in the classrooms, the leaders of the system must undergo rigorous testing as well.