BY THEIR NATURE, endorsements are never popular with the fellow who does not get one. So it went last week when the D.C. Committee for a Better School Board announced its choices for the five seats up for election on Nov. 3. The group is now being charged by some critics with acting as a clique of disgruntled former school officials, with being a front for a Republican effort to take control of the city government and with having the gall to set itself up as the arbiter of who can best serve on the school board. All this griping is typical of what comes when attempts are made to change the way things are done in the usually closed world of the public schools.

Slates of candidates can help the voters understand what is at stake in the school board election and improve the schools themselves. Voters need to understand why this school board race is important if they are to choose among a large number of candidates. If other groups would also endorse candidates and say why they are endorsing those candidates that would be helpful, too. But to object to the one group, so far, that has stood up and said which candidates it thinks would do the best job on the school board is petty.

Attacking the Committee for Better Schools as a clique also does not make sense. The committee openly interviewed candidates and received written statements from them on what their priorities would be if they were elected. According to Benjamin Henley, the former school superintendent and co-chairman of the committee, the group looked for candidates it believed would do three important things: first, resolve the in-fighting that has come to characterize board activity; second --in the wake of the board's recent squabbles with superintendents who resign or are asked to leave every few years-- promise to support the idea that the superintendent is in charge of day-to-day school operations; third, put a premium on candidates who have some record of past dealings with the public schools.

These standards do not strike us as outlandish. What matters is that the group has openly set some standards, openly applied those standards to the candidates and come to some conclusion about who are the best candidates. This exercise upgrades the quality of the school board election no matter who is endorsed. Strange as it may seem, in recent school board elections too many winning candidates have been unknowns or people who have well-known names but whose views on the public schools were unknown. The school board elections have become an eyes-closed, pin-the-tail-on-the donkey game. Slates are to be encouraged, not disparaged, especially in this election. This newspaper will soon endorse individual candidates--and we hope others will do so too.