THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of competent candidates running for the Montgomery County Board of Education on Tuesday's ballot. Three of the board's eight seats are in play this year -- each of which will be chosen by voters countywide.

The easy choice is in the at-large race. The incumbent, Sharon W. Cox, the school board president, has turned in a standout performance. Elected in 2000, Ms. Cox, a former substitute teacher, has displayed a mastery of the issues and political skills to match. Her opponent, engineer Tommy Le, is also a former teacher, but his grasp of policy questions is weak by comparison.

In District 2, taking in Rockville and Potomac, one-term incumbent Walter Lange faces former two-term board member Stephen N. Abrams. A venture capitalist and chairman of the county Republican Party, Mr. Abrams was an intelligent, businesslike member of the board and an effective advocate for special education programs. His commitment wavered at times; he quit in 2002 to run for judge, unsuccessfully. But the austerity-minded Mr. Abrams has made a sensible argument for limiting all-day kindergarten programs to schools whose children need it most. His support for ballot Question A makes us uneasy. It would impose sharp cuts in projected spending for county programs -- probably including the schools. But taxing and spending powers are beyond his brief as a school board member. With that reservation, Mr. Abrams is preferable to Mr. Lange, who has been a steady but unspectacular board member.

Two strong candidates, Valerie Ervin and Sheldon Fishman, are running to represent District 4, which includes Silver Spring, Wheaton and Glenmont. Ms. Ervin, a top aide to County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), is an energetic community activist and former labor organizer who has collected a sheaf of endorsements from county officials and organizations. We backed her in the primary last spring, but the fall campaign has cast a spotlight on an aspect of her record we find troubling: her comments in support of diluting the county schools' excellent programs for gifted and talented students. Ms. Ervin is interested in promoting less-advantaged students who, she fears, are being diverted from the best school programs. Her concern is legitimate, but we agree with Mr. Fishman that academic offerings should be tailored to a broad range of students, including gifted and talented ones. Mr. Fishman, an Internet specialist for a D.C. law firm, would make a dedicated school board member, and we support him.