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Bruce Kaskubar: Public school students, and a passing

Bruce Kaskubar Monday, June 21, 2021, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” ― Diogenes

A few days ago, I heard part of a radio conversation with Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Pekel. Thank you, KROC. I would have liked to have been able to hear more.

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Pekel mentioned the challenge of catching up students to where they should be after two years of poor COVID schooling (which, let’s recall, was partially caused by him and the board), and of the difficulties ahead for students lacking the fundamentals supposed to be understood prior to entering whatever grade level they are now starting.

This isn’t really a new problem, just more widespread.

The system based on grade levels has left some students in this situation for generations. The problem has been made worse by social promotion: passing kids forward based on their ages rather than academic mastery.


Students learn different things differently and at different paces. We all know that. Yet the most common education product is packaged as though everyone can be on the same page at the same time.

A student doing OK in, say, reading and social studies but not math gets passed to the next grade. There, math is only more difficult for not fully understanding the material from the previous grade.

Surely we cannot afford to provide individual tutoring for each student for 12 years. But we can do better than the status quo.

Why shouldn’t we treat long-term subjects such as reading and math like individual ladders where students stay on a rung until its material is mastered? Upon mastery, or at least decency, a student proceeds to the next rung of that subject’s ladder. There are no grade levels for these subjects; the ladders are mostly independent of each other. Rungs would consume a few weeks or months in order to allow promotion (and repetition) in less than a school year.

There would be no crumbling future for lack of understanding the previous material because no one “passes Go” until they’re ready.

Remedial courses wouldn’t exist.

Advanced courses could be a natural progression for students able to climb beyond the standard rungs related to a typical high school career.

Subject-specific grade level testing would not be needed because the rung testing informs us of student progress at each step.


A high school diploma would be earned based on accomplishment requirements related to subjects. Not enough mastery? No diploma.

My mother flunked second grade because she didn’t understand much of what was going on; she had just moved from a French-speaking community to an English-speaking community. One year later, she was fine.

For a language barrier, repeating an entire grade was probably a good thing. Students lagging in certain subjects should have a less drastic option that still supports their needs for the best shot at a well-rounded education.

Sometimes, challenges require something other than the same ol’ same ol’.

Changing the subject

These pages recently related the passing of a former Mayo Clinic administrator, Craig Smoldt.

An online profile says he was a groundskeeper. Actually, he spent a long time leading facility planning, construction, and maintenance. That included groundskeeping. He was one of the parents of the Gonda building and others.

He spent time in, usually leading, Education, IT, Systems and Procedures, Facilities, and more.

Craig was a quiet force. Behind what could be an inscrutable facade: Sharp. Engaged. Interested. Kind. Everywhere.


Craig leaves his mark on many people, programs, departments, and buildings.


Bruce Kaskubar, of Rochester, is a former chairman of the Olmsted County Republican Party. His opinions are his own.

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