It is time for the Montgomery County Board of Education to exercise leadership on an issue of fundamental importance to our children's education -- the curriculum.

School Superintendent Jerry Weast thus far has been remarkably successful in limiting the fallout from his disastrous new math curriculum by wielding the argument that reforms must be given a chance to succeed. But for parents and teachers, a far more compelling proposition is that poorly designed, poorly executed reforms must not be given a chance to fail.

According to an official county school report, only 36 percent of the teachers involved in the 2002 summer school program were satisfied with the new math curriculum. Worse, by Montgomery County's own measurements, the progress of the students taught this curriculum for a month was so slow that, without improvement in the learning rate, it would take them about 20 years to make it through the K-8 curriculum.

Teacher response has been even more negative since the start of the official school year. A torrent of critical postings on the school system's e-mail system calls the new curriculum a catastrophe in the making.

Most poignant are those e-mails describing the demoralizing effect the curriculum is having on students. Teachers hate the curriculum too, and the reasons they give are remarkably consistent:

* Excessive emphasis on writing.

* Poorly designed and inordinately time-consuming unit assessments that frequently do not match the curriculum.

* Too many goals crammed into too short a time, making it impossible for students to master important skills.

* Incoherent organization.

* Age-inappropriate objectives.

In response, the school system has made a few cosmetic changes and fatuously pronounced the problem fixed. But the criticism has only escalated.

In an informal survey conducted recently, only one of 52 teachers responding voted to keep the new curriculum as is. Most felt that the old Instruction System in Mathematics (ISM), while flawed, was vastly preferable to what we have now -- an overstuffed mishmash, hastily developed and haphazardly implemented in the name of "alignment to state standards."

This month a coalition of six countywide parent organizations issued a statement calling on the schools to immediately return to the ISM curriculum and, in collaboration with teachers, parents and advocacy groups, streamline, improve and modify it to achieve a "world-class math curriculum for all students."

If the Board of Education nonetheless remains determined to give Weast's curriculum more time to fail, then its first allegiance is clearly not to our children. However, if the board is committed to raising the bar and closing the gap, it will abort this experiment now and begin revising the ISM on a basis of proven math standards and curriculum in use in the United States and around the world. Anything less will be a violation of the schools' own policies and a betrayal of the children, teachers and parents of Montgomery County.

-- Laurie Sekiguchi