Immovable objects

January 13, 2008

When it comes to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, Gov. Martin O'Malley can't seem to keep his mouth shut. Last week, in his latest salvo, he called her "a pawn of the Republican party." Even though we think it's time Ms. Grasmick ended her tenure, she should step down voluntarily. Mr. O'Malley's war, as it were, has become unseemly and overbearing. It may also encourage legislation that would make the state's education chief a political appointee of the governor. That would be the worst outcome.

Ms. Grasmick set herself up for partisan attack with her close alignment with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., including public speculation that she might be a potential running mate. Then, in 2006, her attempt to take control of 11 troubled Baltimore schools as then-Mayor O'Malley was stepping up his campaign to unseat Mr. Ehrlich was easily viewed as a political maneuver.

Mr. O'Malley was justifiably mad and is now getting even. But while all may be fair in politics, there are limits. Although the top two Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, have sided with the governor, they should resist the temptation to push for removing the state board of education as the insulating layer for hiring or firing the superintendent. It's impossible to remove politics from the process, particularly when the governor appoints board members, but the board is still a desirable buffer.

Ms. Grasmick's leadership undoubtedly helped earn Maryland the No. 3 ranking in the nation for the quality of its schools in a report by Education Week that was also released last week. But that doesn't mean her judgments are flawless or that the achievements cited in the report are consistent across the state.

Maryland's schools will be challenged to provide a high quality education to an increasingly diverse group of students, particularly a new wave of immigrant children. Doing so will require cooperation and coordination between the governor and the superintendent, a prospect that looks increasingly dim with these incumbents.

Mr. O'Malley's profound distrust of Ms. Grasmick will likely seal her fate in the end. But in the meantime, for the sake of the state's schoolchildren, he should try zipping his lips and she should stop digging in her heels.

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