- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Iris T. Metts landed in Prince George's County 2-1/2 years ago with a No. 2 pencil, a blue test book and a collection of graphs, charts and hallway passes.
As it turns out, she should have come to the county with a mouthpiece, headgear and a good cornerman.
They asked her to take the school superintendent's job. They should have asked if she could take a punch.
Educating the young apparently is a blood sport in Prince George's County, and now the only relevant question before the wobbly superintendent is: How many fingers?
This is tougher than an episode of "Boston Public."
When the testing gets tough in Prince George's County, the tough stomp their feet and reach for a pink slip.
The school board has voted, by a 6-3 margin, to fire the superintendent, the superintendent has voted to hang in there, and the gasbags in Annapolis are threatening to fire the school board, whereupon they can appoint their friends, neighbors and significant others to these important positions of trust.
Educators call this an example of reform.
Everyone else calls it a soap opera.
Who let the clowns out?
Test scores are down, testosterone levels are up, and Mrs. Metts finds herself wedged between the two, and only because of a judge's temporary injunction. You can pick her out by the bull's-eye on her back and classified section in her hand.
In an unrelated matter, Mrs. Metts could be the best superintendent around or the worst. It is impossible to say. She barely has had time to become familiar with the local traffic patterns, much less discover if her stewardship just might produce the intended results.
There is more here than test results. The quality of communication between Mrs. Metts and the school board has not been the best. This is somewhat odd, considering one of the purposes of the education field is to teach the young good communication skills.
The lesson plan from Mrs. Metts and the school board is: Don't do as we do. Do as we say.
Now it seems the only thing worse than being the outgoing superintendent of Prince George's County is being the incoming superintendent of Prince George's County.
Do you sign a month-to-month rental lease on a furnished apartment or stay at a Days Inn? Do you bring one or two carry-on items? Do you sign your contract and immediately begin the negotiations on the buyout or do you let a couple of days pass?
Interested parties are urged to read the fine print in the school board's help-wanted ad, which is as follows: Roll the dice. Take a chance. Work with us. We're not that bad. Besides, it's not our money.
The cost, of course, is handled by the taxpayers, innocent though they are. They didn't hire Mrs. Metts. They didn't fire her, either.
Many probably don't know Marilynn Bland from Catherine A. Smith. If you're keeping score at home, that is one vote to fire Mrs. Metts and one vote against firing her.
The next superintendent, assuming the person is as wise as his or her credentials suggest, just might feel a need to secure certain financial protections in the event of a Mettslike fallout. You couldn't blame the person, given the quirky nature of standardized tests.
A standardized test is only one snapshot of the learning process and only as accurate as any snapshot can be. Upgrading the quality of education takes time and effort, after all, and if the truth be known, the process starts in the home with parents who care.
Little dummies who grow up to be big dummies have a tendency to produce little dummies who grow up to be big dummies. A social studies teacher might put it more delicately than that.
To their credit, Mrs. Metts and the school board have played hard, they have played rough, and they have done it in full view of everyone, the students included.
Let's not forget the students.
On some level, perhaps way down the bureaucratic food chain, it is supposed to be about them.
Try not to snicker.


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