PERHAPS THE NEWS of the last seven or so months about what has been happening in the D.C. public schools hasn't reached John Ray, who is running for mayor. He couldn't have been more off the mark in his call for the abolition of this city's elected school board "if the present system doesn't work soon."
A few years ago, when Mr. Ray first voiced misgivings about the elected school board, he could get a sympathetic hearing here and there, because those were the days of board members whose idea of real progress was a meeting without fisticuffs. Students, parents and other people who believe in public education were genuinely worried that the elections process might perpetuate a board of petty politicians whose preoccupation with themselves would keep undermining almost every constructive effort of an increasingly disgusted superintendent.
Still, most of us who appreciate what it took to gain even minimal democratic decision-making powers from a plantation-minded Congress have strong reservations about setting aside a hard-won right of local self-government. We did believe that the last school board election would put this faith in the franchise to its stiffest test; and had a majority of responsible and apparently serious members not emerged as a result, desperation might have argued for an experiment with some other system.
But today--with a lower-profile board at work, with a new superintendent who is setting an impressive pace in her quest for academic improvement in every school, with a reasonable chance of at least adequate financing and with improvements in scores--no representative organization of parents, teachers or residents is supporting any move to do away with the election of school board members.
Mr. Ray, however, says that if things aren't "in place" in the next four years, the city would be better off turning over control of the schools to a powerful appointed superintendent with no board. Whatever that place is supposed to be, our impression is that today's board and superintendent have begun to move in ways that can make good things happen in the classroom--changes that deserve encouragement instead of calls for regression.