October 28, 2022

Failing Grades

Failing Grades

There was bad news this week for the nation’s math students – and by extension, for us. I read an article saying that kids’ math scores saw the biggest drop on record in the latest round of national testing. Both fourth and eighth graders are falling seriously behind, the tests showed. I have one of each.

Since great math skills are helpful for everyone, including my children and Marcum’s accountants, I found this news disturbing. We all knew the heavy Zoom time during the pandemic was taking a toll on children’s learning, despite all of the heroic efforts parents and teachers made to compensate for the lack of classroom time. This latest round of test data underscores what we all suspected: those herculean efforts just weren’t enough.

There’s no going back, but it’s time to take the bull by the horns and make sure kids are learning the basics of math, and then going beyond that. Many of the most promising careers of the future are STEM careers—accounting being only one of them—and students who are falling behind in middle school are likely to lose interest in math by the time they get to high school and opt out of challenging classes like calculus. That will have a ripple effect, making it hard to major in STEM subjects in college. Which, in turn, closes off career opportunities and limits economic mobility. And the work world is only going to become more concentrated in STEM with each passing year.

The students who scored best on the test had the advantages of a quiet workspace, a computer, and extra assistance during the pandemic from their teachers. Not to mention parents! It’s a good thing that so many local libraries and volunteer tutoring programs are stepping in to fill the gaps in the system. If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities after Marcum’s upcoming Day of Service (back live and in-person this year on November 23), these are very worthy causes. Although most schools have been open for months, they can’t catch up overnight and need all the help they can get, especially with their own staffing shortages.

In the meantime, we have a teachable moment coming up this Monday on Halloween. As Louis Biscotti, national leader of our Food & Beverage Group, wrote in Forbes recently, candy prices have been skyrocketing, thanks to numerous market factors (and by the way, he beat the news cycle – the Wall Street Journal’s story on this topic didn’t run until Wednesday this week!). Candy and chewing gum prices are up 13% (with Hershey bars up 17%). If you’re looking for a math problem that’ll really engage your kids, ask them to calculate what each of those lollipops and miniature Snickers bars costs. That could be a shocker.

On another note, I usually think about the week to come and acknowledge holidays and other significant events. Last week I was apparently asleep at the switch. I neglected to acknowledge Diwali, India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year, a Festival of Lights that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and the human ability to overcome—a great vision for all of us at this time. Diwali is celebrated over five days and ended Wednesday.

Monday was another momentous occasion in the Weiner family—my mother’s 90th birthday. A belated Happy Birthday, Mom.

This coming Monday is Halloween. Having children of the age that still trick or treat, Tracy and I will be doing it with them, NYC style—going apartment building to apartment building, just like going house to house in most suburbs across the country. The lobbies of the buildings that line Park Avenue are especially good to kids. And the residents of East 78th Street do a great job decorating their various houses for a true Halloween experience. Enjoy the fun that Halloween brings, everyone.