Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
Contemplating Tea Leaves, Technology, and Humanity
May 2017
In This Issue

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Dear Educators,

As you plan for next year and beyond, where are you looking for guidance?  What contextual factors are you considering?  Is your district planning any new initiatives? 

In Wow! this month, CEI's executive director begins with a comparative review of educational forecasts from several different sources.  No matter the source of the predictions, technology innovations are named as a major force in continuing to impact the trajectory of education. To probe further into technology and the future, Lindsay Reeves explores some innovations in technology and math. For the final article, Rachel Kelly takes us abroad to Japan, a country that continually rates high in educational achievement. Join us as we reflect on how Japan is faring and consider how moral education in undergoing a major shift in Japan. In our view, what is happening in Japan has some interesting implications for teaching right here in the US as well.
Reading Tea Leaves: The Future of Schools
By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director
Where do you see education headed? From your perspective, at your school, what do you think will be the next big trend? What will be the impact on schools?

Here are some of the movements that CEI sees as continuing to gain traction:
  • Maker Spaces
  • Learning from Neuroscience
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Mindfulness
  • Early Childhood Education
In this article, we will compare our views of these major trends with predictions from four other sources: iNacol, Education Elements, District Administration, and TED-ED Blogs.

iNacol, the International Association for K-12 online learning, in Dec. 2015, listed 11 trends, including: changes in measurement and definitions of success, a data-based approach to decision making, a more balanced approach to learning, student centered environments and personalization of instruction, microcredentialing for teacher professional development, attention to neuroscience, robotics and maker-spaces, mobile learning, and cloud computing. iNacol describes how students will be more empowered to make choices regarding their own learning. As neuroscientists learn more and more about how children learn, that information will be more important to educational decision making and will also shape emerging innovations. Not surprisingly, many of iNacol's predictions are informed by evolving technologies, an important consideration with many implications for the near and far future.

Another forecast for the future of education comes from Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, a personalized learning company. In an article published in Education Weekly in February 2017, Kim describes increased competition from charters, vouchers, and the internet; an  increased struggle to meet the diverging interests and needs of analog and digital generations of learners and teachers in schools; and challenges to meet diversity, equity, and stewardship needs. Kim also provides examples of how ed-tech companies will evolve as they continue to advance the services they provide to schools - one example he provides is of the possibilities for reading comprehension programs to also meet the needs of districts for writing programs. In light of all of this, Kim envisions districts realigning resources to focus on learning and growing rather than planning and evaluating.

Tim Goral, writing for District Administration, provided projections for 2017 based on a survey of 288 administrators. Respondents indicated that school administrators needed to be more involved in learning about and promoting how to use technology effectively, that state and federal courts needed to work to further expansion of laws promoting racial equality in classrooms, and that greater use of social media could reduce teacher isolation.Responses to the survey also suggested that 2/3 of the districts will build or replace aging facilities and that STEM curricula and instruction will receive more attention. Innovations such as personalized learning will also open the doors to new models of professional development (PD) with competency-based microcredentialing that gives educators more autonomy as they direct their own professional development. This PD may occur through online courses, observations and video-coaching, and professional learning communities.

A fourth series of predictions, this time including projections up until 2050, was provided in a TED-Ed Blog in February 2016. Laura McLaren, in that article, adds the voice of teachers to this discussion. In this blog, a global group of innovative educators -including teachers from Argentina, the US, South Korea, Armenia, Brazil, and Israel - suggest that there will be more freedom and creativity and that schools will be transformed to huge "maker spaces." A somewhat contradictory prediction is that physical campuses will disappear. Another version of the future by one of the teacher innovators presents a radically different view of school campuses,with virtual reality embedded into instruction. Other thoughts: students will indeed "dream the impossible dream" and courses will be multidisciplinary with some focus on social justice. kids_jumping_on_hill.jpg

What Can We Conclude?

On first blush, I believe it can be said, that the various authors seem to be looking at different parts of the elephant. Indeed, some predictions may be more relevant to various factions than others. A related observation is that writers approached this from a variety of perspectives, including everything from what is most likely to occur to what is needed to protect education or for sustainability of practices. In that regard, some articles appear to present more of a "wish list" than others. And of course, it is one thing to make predictions and another to deliver predictions based on results of a survey.

In brief, a few things stand out:
  • Technology has a huge role to play in the future of education.
  • Several authors mentioned empowerment and personalized learning, including not only its impact on students, but also on teachers.
  • STEM will be an important component.
  • Ted-Ed was the only group that included the voice of international educators - and its vision, which looked further into the future than the others - was both more creative and perhaps even more inspirational.
  • CEI was the only one of the sources that mentioned early childhood education, SEL, and mindfulness.
In the US - the Possible Impact of Federal Leadership and Funding

Let's look at these in light of some other variables that have been introduced with the current administration:
  • Reduction in funding for education.
  • Expansion of funds for charter schools and school choice.
  • Movement to send control back to the states (admittedly this started with ESSA under President Obama) but has taken on a new level of significance under President Trump.
  • Portability of Title I funds.
  • Loss of funding for after-school programs.
  • Reduction in support for teacher and administrator professional development.
  • A pull away from accountability (again this started with ESSA with introduction of more state autonomy) and a push toward parental choice and local control. The future of accountability is unclear.
  • With the current administration, a tendency to ignore science and to act in ways that are not supportive of innovations or research and development.
Of course, the House and Senate have passed a budget resolution which provides some assurances through September 2017. With this budget resolution, the education budget was cut by some $60 million. With September a few short months away questions remain regarding the future of many programs.

From CEI's perspective, important trends which were supported by federal funding in recent years, such as early childhood education, principal professional development, and support for STEM, are vulnerable to reduced funding. Combining this with an overall reduction in accountability, adds a new element of uncertainty to forecasts for the future. CEI is concerned about initiatives that may drive resources from high poverty schools and from programs that help children who live in poorer neighborhoods.

Morgan Polikoff, writing an op-ed for Education Next states, "There is no doubt that the coalition that once supported accountability policy has frayed... We must continue to recognize that the design of accountability policy matters, and we must refine our policies over time. ESSA allows states to do this. It allows states to include better test-based measures of school performance, and they should. It allows them to incorporate measures of school climate, student attendance and discipline, and progress toward college and career readiness." For CEI this suggests that even as we sigh a collective sigh of relief with ESSA, that what was once seen as a reasonable course of action might need to be re-examined. As District Administration mentions, the role of state and federal courts may be important to protecting and furthering best practices.
Technology, Math, and the Development of 21st Century Learners
Lindsay Reeves, CEI Intern
The Past
Nearly two decades ago, Henry Jay Becker of UC, Irvine, conducted a timely study on Children's Access to and Use of Computer Technology. Although the Internet was beyond its infantile stages in the early 2000s, student use of computers was relatively limited to what Becker called "word processing programs" unless home environments provided opportunities for additional technological exposure. The data were clear and Becker concluded that "technologically sophisticated" students were most likely to be found in high SES homes and more affluent students, while underfunded schools and lower SES homes were likely to produce presumably less technologically savvy individuals. Interestingly, however, the thrust of the research found that "children in higher-SES schools are advantaged not so much by greater access to computers, but by access to a teaching approach that emphasizes use of technology for developing higher-order skills." As such, the emphasis was on the "teaching approach" rather than on mere hardware accessibility (Becker, 2000).

The Present

Almost 20 years later, Becker's words remain true. That is, the 21st century approach to producing capable, successful, competent learners is found in the mediums by which learners are engaged. It is not enough, then, for technology to remain as an esoteric or isolated entity, but rather to be fully integrated, serving as a much needed supplement in molding a practical pedagogy. In fact, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recognizes that "technology must be used to support all students' learning of mathematical concepts and procedures, including those that students eventually employ without the aid of technology" (National Council of Teachers in Mathematics, 2015).


Increasingly, virtual tools are becoming vital in ensuring cross-discipline competency, but are especially relevant for use in the math classroom. TeachThought, an outstanding resource for equipping educators in accordance with observed trends, offers a blog entry that specifically lists the best learning applications for elementary students. Particularly for younger learners, who on average have been continuously exposed to technology for several years, incorporating true-to-life games and virtual creation exercises inevitably strengthens mathematics teaching and learning (Dick & Hollebrands 2011). TeachThought boasts partnerships with some of the elite school districts. Incidentally, one of its partner organizations, Rockdale County Public Schools, near Athens, Georgia, has consistently produced some of the most well-equipped STEM students in the state.

Rockdale County Public Schools' one-to-one laptop initiative, called Learning Reimagined, includes grades 3-5. Students were issued laptops in the fall and are taking laptops home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sims Elementary School's website shows some of the uses of technology in Rockdale Schools. For example, the website provides links to the following online science activities websites:
TeachThought also has a list of the "40 of the best Apps" for elementary students. Among these are Apps for Math and Reading, organized by grade level, including Motion Math.

Motion Math Games

An application that can successfully assess mathematical competency both with and without the use of technology simultaneously has been released by Motion Math Games, an instructional, comprehensive suite of games designed to help kids master the most "challenging K-6 standards." Each game is carefully and strategically aligned to assist learners in mastering proficiency in accordance with rigorously prescribed content standards. Not only can students work at their own pace, the application can impressively measure perhaps the greatest indicator of learning, that is, the development of a growth mindset.

Michelle M. Riconscente of USC, in her detailed research on Motion Math and its benefits for teaching fractions in particular, concluded that students scored an average of 15 percent higher on fractions exercises after engaging with the Motion Math application over a 5-day period, with an overall increase of 10 percent growth when compared with the control group (Riconscente, 2013).

The Future

As technology continues to be more complexly interwoven into our societal fabric, the pressure to produce students capable to meet both the local academic demands and the broader global challenges, can sometimes become overwhelming. However, instructor anxiety can be mitigated by the careful integration of technology into the classroom. Providing younger students with familiar problem-solving tools can be the key to unlocking both their potential and attention; however, this process must continue to be informed by the dynamic nature of curriculum and emerging trends in education. With these factors in the forefront, instructors and administrators are likely to see continued success.

Becker, H. (2000). Who's wired and who's not: Children's access to and use of computer technology. The Future of Children, 10(2), 44-75.

Dick, T. P., & Hollebrands, K. F. (2011). Focus in high school mathematics: Technology to support reasoning and sense making. Reston, VA: NCTM.

MotionMath. (2016).

National Council of Teachers in Mathematics. (2015). Strategic use of technology in teaching and learning mathematics.

Riconscente, M. (2013). Results from a controlled study of the ipad fractions game motion math. Games and Culture, 8(4), 186-214.

TeachThought. (2016). 40 of the best learning apps for elementary students. 
Moral Education in Japan - It is Evolving
By Rachel Kelly, CEI Intern and Christine Mason
In education, Japanese students are known for having some of the best test scores in the world. In 2015 PISA scores, Japan ranked 5th in math, 2nd in science, and 8th in reading (Singapore was #1 in all three areas; OECD, 2016). Based on this, one might guess that they have an outstanding education system. This is true for many aspects; however, traditional Japanese culture makes their educational practices very different than the ones used in Western countries. 

History of Moral Education in Japan

Some of the concepts that have been taught historically in Japanese moral education are good virtue, patriotism, love of school, respect for society, and established order (Schmid, 2012). Moral education has been mandatory starting in early elementary school and has been part of the foundation of Japanese education since the Meiji Era (1868-1912 CE) (Sakurai, 2011). However, moral education is currently in a state flux as it is evolving in Japan.

Contextual Factors

In reflecting on the contextual factors that might influence both high test scores and the evolving approach to moral education in Japanese schools, we decided that a brief explanation of Japanese education might be interesting. 

Starting Classes with Practical Problems. An example of an effective and excellent school practice that could help with school achievement is problem solving. Oftentimes, Japanese lessons start with a practical problem. Teachers may even organize instruction lesson around a single problem. According to OECD (2011), "Teachers lead the children to recognise what is known and what is unknown, and direct the student's attention to the critical parts of the problem. Teachers attempt to see that all the children understand the problem, and even mechanics, such as mathematical computation, and are presented in the context of solving the problem." At the end of the lesson, the teacher relates what was learned to the problem that was presented at the beginning of the lesson. Teachers may ask several children to present  their process and work on the chalkboard. Not unexpectedly, students may arrive at different solutions. Rather than focusing on the right and wrong answers, the teacher will ask students about their views regarding the various approaches the students have used. This creates a sense of community among teachers and students and helps students understand the value of thinking about problems rather than searching for the one right answer.

Among other factors that might influence the high academic performance of students in Japan are the following:
  • Students spend more time in school. Until recently, they went to school six days a week. Students have several hours of homework a day and only six weeks of vacation during the summer. Many Japanese students also spend considerable time in various forms of private instruction after the regular school day.
  • Equity: Japanese teachers and principals are often reassigned to schools to make assure a distribution of the most capable teachers among schools.
  • In Japanese society, student achievement is highly valued and assumed as a responsibility by the family, the teachers, the faculty and even peers.
However, along with the high scores, the Japanese approach to education has been accompanied by a pressure cooker mentality. Japan has a reputation for the high pressure its places on youth to excel, and the suicide rate for high school students is significantly higher in Japan than in the United States. In fact, Japan's overall suicide rate is 60% higher than the global average (World Health Organization, 2014).

Responsibility and Community
The Japanese moral curriculum teaches the concept of group harmony, where conformity is highly valued (Schmid, 2012). Despite the positives of group harmony such as creating a sense of community and helping students to create norms for good behavior and responsibility, there are negatives that result from Japan's emphasis on conformity. Being different, even slightly, historically has been considered dangerous in Japanese society. Schmid (2012), a college professor, explains that this concept is so ingrained in Japanese society that instructors purposely avoid discussing the individual differences between students' appearances, personalities, and behaviors. In the United States and other countries, there is a philosophy that every student learns differently and has diverse needs. This allows educators to modify instruction and try to help students learn to the best of their ability (Nolen, 2003). However, small differences are not acknowledged by Japanese teachers. In terms of learning, this means that many students in Japan may not be receiving the kind of instructional practices that cater to their personal strengths and will allow them to learn better.


The concept of conformity also creates other problems in Japanese education. The idea that those who are different are bad has made bullying an issue in Japan. A cross-cultural comparison of bullying in the United States and Japan found that violent, aggressive bullying occurs less in Japan than compared to the United States. However, ijime (psychological harassment including verbal abuse, isolation, etc.) is a major problem among Japanese students (Hilton, Anngela-Cole, & Wakita, 2010). Some data suggest that bullying is very prevalent, but also underestimated (Rios-Ellis, Bellamy & Shoji, 2000). Bullying tends to go unreported, making it difficult to arrive at accurate numbers regarding the rate or frequency of bullying. Because of the value of conformity, many times the person being bullied is seen as doing something wrong rather than being seen as a victim. The victims themselves may think they deserve the unfair treatment. This belief is even held among parents whose children have been bullied. For example, a common proverb to tell children is "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." Teachers and administrators do not always intervene when they know bullying is happening because they don't want to call attention to it(Treml, 2001). This is problematic because allowing bullying to happen may be teaching students that this behavior is acceptable, and victims being bullied could suffer greatly.

It is common knowledge that bullying can result in major psychological problems, and that this can affect a student's ability to learn and function in school. However, psychological problems, such as depression or other forms of mental illness, are often not acknowledged in Japan. Because of the social values of conformity, the Japanese education system avoids labeling its students in any way that may make them seem different (Borovoy, 2008). This idea has shaped the way the Japanese education system provides guidance to students. Many think fixing one's mental state is a matter of discipline and resilience. A consequence is that depression and other conditions tend to be underdiagnosed in Japan (Borovoy, 2008).   Hokkaido University professor Kenzo Denda  also reports that 1 in 12 Japanese elementary school-aged children, and 1 in 4 junior high school students, suffer from clinical depression. Further, Japan has a shortage of therapists to assist these children - there are plans to increase the number.

Moral Education - it's Evolving

Given the pressure to achieve, the suicide rate, bullying, and degree of clinical depression in Japan, what is Japan doing in schools to address these concerns? In an interview in 2013, Japan's education minister, Shimomura Hakubun, explained, "The biggest problem with Japanese education is the tremendous self-deprecation of our high school students . . .He cites an international survey in which children are asked: 'Are there times when you feel worthless?' Eighty-four percent of Japanese kids say yes - double the figure in the US, South Korea and China. Shimomura's remedy was an expanded curriculum of moral and patriotic education with removal of "self-deprecating" views of history and references to 'disputed' war crimes. Seiji Renmei sees its mission as renewing the national emphasis on "Japanese spiritual values." (McNeil, 2013).

Today, moral education is merged throughout all subjects and activities, and schools hold one-hour lessons once a week to teach moral lessons (Bolton, 2015). The education ministry plans to introduce moral education as an official subject beginning in 2018 and 2019. The updated curriculum will include components on accepting individual differences, tolerance, and "treating a person without prejudice and in a fair and equitable manner." The ministry's of education also has plans for components on "information morality," "sustainable development of society" and "the relationship between progress of science and bioethics." (Moral education . . ., 2015).


Bolton, K. (2015). The coming of a new dawn, Abe's new moral education. University of Olso.

McNeil, D. (2013). Back to the future: Shinto, Ise, and Japan's new moral education. T he Asia-Pacific Journal, 11,50, 1. 

Borovoy, A. (2008). Japan's hidden youth: Mainstreaming the emotionally distressed in Japan. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 32: 5522-576.

Hilton, J. M., Anngela-Cole, L., & Wakita, J. (2010). A cross-cultural comparison of factors associated with school bullying in Japan and the United States. Family Journal, 18(4), 413-422. 

Moral education raises risks.(2015, February 10).
Japan Times.

Nolen, J. L. (2003). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Education, 124(1), 115-119.

OECD (2011). Lessons from PISA for the United States: Strong performers and successful reformers in education. OECD Publishing.

Rios-Ellis, B., Bellamy, L., & Shoji, J. (2000). An examination of specific types of Ijime within Japanese schools. School Psychology International, 21(3), 227.

Sakurai, R. (2010). Preserving national identity and fostering happiness in an era of globalization: A comparative exploration of values and moral education in Bhutan and Japan. Journal of International Cooperation in Education. 

Schmid, C. (2012). Pedagogical essay: Teaching Japanese culture and education. Japan Studies Association Journal, 10177-183.

Toriumi, S. (2013. March 1). Lesson #1: School lunch. Education in Japan: Contemporary International Education

Treml, J. N. (2001). Bullying as a social malady in contemporary Japan. International Social Work, 44(1), 107-118.

World Health Organization (2014). World Health Statistics.

I read today about a new product that merges coffee and tea, something I have been doing manually for years as I combine yogi (chai) tea with coffee. So as I think of entrepreneurs, education, and tea leaves, I am wondering if there may be a way to combine tea and coffee for a more accurate reading. I haven't yet seen a recommendation for this.

Did you know there is even a name for the art of tea or coffee reading? Tasseography. Whether we are reading tea leaves or coffee grounds - apparently Turkish coffee grounds leave the thickest residue and therefore may be easier to read - education is at a point where some contemplation about the future may be useful. It seems that so often we are in the midst of the current cycle of funding and priorities, leaving little time or space for looking beyond the next 6 - 12 mos. Stay tuned over the next few months as CEI continues to bring you news from near and far that may just stimulate your curiosity. While we may not literally read tea leaves, it may be that we can give you something to ponder over your morning cup.


Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement