And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14

Monday, November 24, 2014

Teaching Your Children Compassion

My husband and I have taught third graders in Sunday School for over twelve years.  In many ways, my love for children began in that small room filled with curious kids who weren't afraid to ask questions and never left before hugging my neck.  More than a decade later, I still look forward to teaching them every Sunday.  And over the years, they have taught me as much as I hope that I have taught them.

Over the last few weeks, we have been learning about Joseph.  We watched as God anointed him for a special purpose, we mourned as his brothers jealously mistreated him, we sighed with relief as God provided for him in Egypt, we held our breath as he was falsely accused and suffered in prison, we rejoiced as God redeemed him to a place of high esteem, and this week we marveled as he chose to show compassion to those who hurt him.

We talked a little bit about what compassion meant at the beginning of class.  No one was quite sure.  Mostly the kids described compassion as feeling sorry for someone.  Then we read how Joseph chose to share what he had to feed his brothers when they were hungry, the same ones who threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, and celebrated in his misery.

After the story, a nine-year old little boy raised his hand with a smile in his eyes, and he said, "Oh, Mrs. Alison, now I see what compassion is…It's doing something that someone needs to show them you love them."

I'm pretty sure a doctorate in theology couldn't have come up with a better answer than that.

Compassion isn't about feeling sorry for someone.  It's about recognizing a need and doing something to meet that need, not because the person deserves it, but because you desire to show them love, God's love.

This Thanksgiving as you gratefully reflect on all your blessings, take this opportunity to also teach your children about compassion.  Talk about it, demonstrate it and pray God will build compassion in them as they grow so their lives are characterized by seeing needs and responding in love.

Here are some activities you can do with your children to help demonstrate compassion…
  1. When you shop for groceries, ask for paper instead of plastic.  Then have your kids decorate the paper bags with colorful artwork or encouraging messages and donate the bags to your local food bank.
  2. Collect last year's coats that are already too small and donate them to your local Salvation Army.  But before you do, have your children draw a picture or write a sweet note.  Fold it up and place it in a pocket of the coat so that someone finds it on a cold day.
  3. When you bake your Thanksgiving pies or cookies, whip up an extra batch and deliver it to a local hotel, where employees often spend holidays working alone.
  4. Gather all those little soaps, lotions and shampoos you've collected at hotels and deliver them to your local women's shelter or homeless shelter.
  5. Take your children shopping to fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child (  And when you go, don't buy anything for your children.  Encourage them to pick out things they would like then let them find joy in giving.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  And find me on Facebook 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

State Board Member Illegally Serving

I am definitely not a conspiracist.  In fact, I've been known to light-heartedly tease friends and family for being "Fox News junkies."  But today there is a concern that I think you should be aware of.

Thomas Ratliff is one of the 15 members of the Texas State Board of Education.  He is also a paid lobbyist for Microsoft.  This conflict of interest means that according to Title 2, Subtitle B, Chapter 7 of the Texas Education Code he is illegally holding the seat, but the Texas House of Representatives hasn't taken the proper action to impeach him.

The idea of a paid lobbyist illegally sitting on a government board that makes decisions that impact over 5,000,000 of our children is a little disturbing.  But then you add the fact that Microsoft is one of the two companies that profits the most when a state adopts Common Core State Standards, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Bill Gate's Microsoft and Pearson (the country's leading textbook publishing and education testing company), spent over $170million working with the U.S. Department of Education to develop the Common Core State Standards and now both companies are raking in the profits as they market their education technology and products, which they say are essential to success under these standards.  (Source:

Texas hasn't adopted Common Core, but school districts across the state are purchasing Common Core-based curriculum and technology to instruct students on these new TEKS because the two sets of standards have such strong overlap.

During my research on Texas' new Math TEKS, I have heard from teachers and parents who like the TEKS and feel the rigor and abstract processes will lead to higher level thinking skills.  I have also heard from teachers and parents who believe the standards are fuzzy and developmentally inappropriate.  But no matter what side of that line you fall, everyone I talk to says they were implemented too quickly, leaving too many learning and instruction gaps.  And leaving our children and teachers in a painful struggle to catch up.

So did Mr. Ratliff or someone like him have something to do with this abrupt shift in Math TEKS?  It certainly profits Microsoft for Texas to take a giant leap to align with Common Core State Standards because then their many CCSS based products can be marketed all across our great state.

It's a question that I'm asking, not because a good conspiracy gets my heart pumping, but because I want the first priority of every member of the Texas State Board of Education to be my children.

I e-mailed my State Representative to let them know I don't like the conflict of interest created by a Microsoft lobbyist illegally holding a seat on the state board.  You may want to let your State Rep know too.

If you would like to get updates via Facebook, like my page at

Like Promised on Facebook

Many of you have asked about a Facebook page.  I know social media is a great way to stay updated so I created a Facebook page that will help you stay connected to my blog.  Like my page to get the updates.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sample E-mails

Here are two sample e-mails that you may use ideas from or even copy and paste from to send your messages to our our SBOE members.

Sample E-mail to Tom Maynard:
Mr. Tom Maynard,
 First I would like to thank you so much for your time and willingness to listen tentatively to the testimonies yesterday. I feel very confident today that you see the problems that these new TEKS have presented. As I watched you listen and ask questions to clarify this case I know you truly want to do the best for our children. I am writing to you as well to I urge you to now recommend that Commissioner Williams suspend district accountability for STAAR Math Test in grades 3-8 for 2015.  By removing the impact the STAAR Math will have on districts' and schools' rating, we may be able to reduce some of the stress felt by administrators, which can trickle down to teachers and ultimately down to the students. I have no agenda except to be the voice of these struggling children. Please help us open the ears of those that can make the changes necessary to give these little voices a face!

Mary Russell

Sample E-mail to Barbara Cargill:
Please ask Greg Abbott, the Attorney General, to provide a formal opinion on how closely the new math TEKS align with Common Core standards. Our state needs the assurance that common core hasn't slipped in through the back door. We owe it to our children.
Thank you,
Alison Howell 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Math- the hot topic in Austin today

Today was surreal.  I almost don't know where to begin.  The State Board of Education Committee on Instruction meeting began at 9am, and it lasted until after 3pm.  The meeting began with an update from TEA letting Board Members know the process by which the TEKS were adopted.  Then began the public testimony.  

Over a dozen parents and educators stood in front of the board and pleaded for their child's future.  The testimonies were touching and the message was consistent - the gaps in the math TEKS this year are best described as the grand canyon and students are plummeting off the cliff emotionally and educationally.  One educator said she feels she is better described this year as a bully than a teacher, intending her students harm as she purposefully races through developmentally inappropriate material.  Another father cried as he explained what homework time looks like at his house every night.

But all those impactful testimonies would be for naught if something isn't changed.  And now is the moment when that change will either happen or our board members will look the other way.  And the change is up to you and me!

Here is what you can do…

First, e-mail Tom Maynard ( and urge him to recommend that Commissioner Williams suspend district accountability for STAAR Math Test in grades 3-8 for 2015.  By removing the impact the STAAR Math will have on districts' and schools' rating, we may be able to reduce some of the stress felt by administrators, which can trickle down to teachers and ultimately down to the students.

Second, e-mail Barbara Cargill ( and urge her to ask the Attorney General, Greg Abbott, to provide a formal opinion on how closely these new Math TEKS align to Common Core.

What's next…

As a result of the meeting today, the Committee on Instruction will be recommending to the full board tomorrow that a Focus Group be formed to continue the discussion of how the gaps created by these new math TEKS are affecting our children and their teachers.  Each SBOE member will be allowed to nominate one teacher and one parent to serve on this group, which will meet with SBOE board members and Commissioner Williams.  I have asked David Bradley to nominate me as the parent in my district.  The group will need to meet quickly, as every day that goes by is a day our children grow more anxious, more frustrated and more desperate for our help.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Comic Relief

A little comic relief before the big husband, Lance, forgot his dress shoes so he will be sporting these with his suit tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From the Mouths of Babes

Tomorrow my husband and I are leaving for Austin with my mom and three close friends, Lindsey Vannett, Kacy Havard and Karen Croft.  We are hoping to see dozens more when we get there who are headed that way for the same reason that we are.

I spent a lot of time preparing for this trip, and I have bathed it in prayer, as I know many of you have too.  During my quiet time yesterday, I spent a few moments just being still and knowing that God is GOD.

He brought to my mind a time this summer when Mackenzie received the opportunity to be on the local news because she was awarded a scholarship from Kohl's for her philanthropic efforts to support children in Haiti.  She told the reporter that she plans to use the scholarship to get a teaching degree from Texas A&M.

I watched the video of the news story about my sweet baby.  It was titled "Fighting a giant at age 8."  In the story she says, "Anybody, any age or any size can do anything."

(If the video below doesn't work, click this link to view the news story)

Anbody any age or any size can do anything - Mackenzie Howell

Her passion for her cause is unquenchable because she believes that.  As an adult, sometimes I look at the giant and feel defeated before the fight even begins.  May I have her faith and her passion in my life too.  Not because I am big, I am strong or I am important.  I am not any of those things.  But because God is big, He is strong and He is important.  All I have to be is obedient.

THANK YOU for your prayers!

If you would like to learn more about Mackenzie's efforts in Haiti, visit our blog or check out her book at

The Cost of Doing Nothing

Thank you to all of you who are e-mailing your concerns to me or directly to your SBOE members.  I have received many and plan to include each one I receive in my presentation materials for the Instruction on Committee Members.

As I prepare for my trip this week, I am researching possible solutions, such as asking the SBOE to test on common TEKS this year and asking them to postpone the second reading and final adoption of the TEKS.  But I have also learned a lot about the cost of doing nothing.  It's something we should all consider.  Expecting our students to perform poorly but ignoring the impact that will have on students and educators is irresponsible.  The impact in the classroom and at home is real.  Some of the negative effects are:
  • ·      Math Anxiety – According to a July 14, 2011 News Release from Texas Instruments titled “Easing your child’s math anxiety”: Math anxious kids aren’t always just ‘stressed out’ or dislike math; many feel they are unable to succeed in mathematics. They may have struggled in the past and are convinced they’ll always have trouble.  In the second six week of the 2014-2015 school year teachers are already expressing their concerns that students are developing a paranoia of math due to the fast paced curriculum with significant instructional gaps brought on by TEKS revisions.  Math anxiety can have real and long lasting effects.  In his article published in the Journal of Cognition and Development, University of Chicago Psychology Professor Sian Beilock recounts these findings from his research: “Early math anxiety may lead to a snowball effect that exerts an increasing cost on math achievement by changing students’ attitudes and motivational approaches towards math, increasing math avoidance, and ultimately reducing math competence,” - See more at:

  • ·      Aggression/DepressionAccording to Victoria Tennant of John Hopkins School of Education, negative stress occurs when a person feels threatened or unable to manage a situation.  By creating intentional gaps that illicit significant challenges in the classroom, children are faced with situations that solicit threatening or out of control feelings.  John Hopkins’ scholars say these feelings lead to impulsive, aggressive behaviors or withdrawal and depression.  Those students who react aggressively will be at risk for violence at home or at school and bullying behaviors.  And according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, students who become depressed are also at risk for lethargy and apathy in the classroom, or even worse, thoughts and attempts of suicide.  This cost alarms me even more when I consider that my SBOE member, David Bradley, provided me with information that indicated Singapore math was one resource used for developing these TEKS.  This is not a country we want to follow considering facts presented by the Singapore Democratic Party: 22 percent of Singaporean children aged between 6-12 indicated or entertained thoughts of killing themselves and 17.2 percent of primary-school children in Singapore have symptoms of depression.

  • ·       Decrease in Extracurricular Activities – Struggling students are being pulled out of extracurricular activities that could benefit them socially, physically and creatively either because parents do not feel their children can handle school work and extracurricular activities or because students’ poor performance at school precludes them from being allowed to participate.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, which is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, participation in extracurricular activities is key to student success.  This is asserted in the following excerpt from the June 1995 NCES Education Policy Issues series:  Extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing the lessons learned in the classroom, offering students the opportunity to apply academic skills in a real-world context, and are thus considered part of a well-rounded education. Recent research suggests that participation in extracurricular activities may increase students' sense of engagement or attachment to their school, and thereby decrease the likelihood of school failure and dropping out (Lamborn et al, 1992; Finn, 1993).

  • ·      A Breakdown in Parent-Teacher Relationships - Many parents who are upset about the new standards in the classroom unfairly blame teachers for the unreasonable expectations placed on their children causing stress in the parent-teacher relationship.  According to the National Education Association’s article “Research Spotlight on Parental Involvement in Education,” regardless of family income or background good parent-teacher collaboration is key to achieving the following: Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs; be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits; attend school regularly; Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school; Graduate and go on to postsecondary education

  • ·      Financial Burden on Parents – According to the online service,, the average US tutor makes $16.94 per hour.  Students are typically tutored for one to two hours each week, making the financial burden on families between $600 and $1,200 per child per year.  Locally, private math tutors are in high demand.  I pay $20.00 per week to have my child tutored for one hour a week.  Mathnasium, a local learning center to boost math skills boasts record enrollment with a cost of $279 per month per child.  These costly extra resources have become necessary, especially because parents often cannot help their children in math.  The NY Times recognized the trend with this quote in their June 29, 2014 edition,Across the country, parents who once conceded that their homework expertise petered out by high school trigonometry are now feeling helpless when confronted with first-grade work sheets.”  While it may be difficult to fit tutoring into the budget, it is a sacrifice many parents are willing to make.  But what about the families who cannot afford this service?  The 2010 U.S. Census reported there are 3,434,533 families with children under the age of 18 in Texas, and 19.9% of those, or 683,472, are at or below poverty level.  That represents hundreds of thousands of children who most likely have nowhere to turn for extra help.

  • ·      Teacher Turnover – According to the Texas Center for Educational Research, teacher turnover is costly – “the cost estimate is between $3,000 and $4,000 per teacher for most districts, depending on geographic, economic, and community characteristics, as well as ability to pay signing bonuses and stipends for shortage areas. “  Teachers are expressing frustration and stress at unprecedented levels this year.  Cy-Fair TSTA has voiced their concern about the effects these new TEKS are having on teachers and students through social media outlets.  Bill Conway, who serves as a TEA consultant for campus intervention and a private campus coach for several districts in the state says he is hearing frustration from teachers at every campus he goes to.  The costs will be felt both financially and in the classrooms if we loose good teachers because of the stress caused by the rushed implementation of these new TEKS.
If our leaders were told that their children would loose their love for learning, but children behind them will be better in math; that their granddaughter will have to quit the ballet class she loves so she can attend tutoring instead of dance; or that their son will develop a fear of math that he will carry with him for the rest of his life, I imagine that would be an unacceptable cost to them.  As the mother of a bright nine year old who says she used to be smart, but she doesn't know what happened because she can't do math this year, I find those costs unacceptable too.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Time To Stand Together

Today, I met with State Board of Education Representative, David Bradley.  He agreed that our concerns are real and valid.  He also invited me to make a presentation to the Committee on Instruction in Austin on Thursday, November 20 at 9am in the Travis Building.

He invited you to come too.  He said any parent or educator who had concerns about these new Math TEKS could stand up for their children by attending the committee meeting in Austin on November 20th.

You may support by simply attending to help demonstrate the number of people who have concerns or you may request to make a public comment.  Click on this link to register for a public testimony.

If you just cannot make it to Austin, but you want to do something, e-mail me a statement that expresses the impact the new math TEKS are having in your home or in your classroom.  I will compile the concerns and present them in written form to the committee.  My e-mail address is  Your e-mails do not have to contain scholarly rhetoric or researched statistics, they just need to express the effect these new expectations in math are having on your child.

If you want to do something to help your child who is struggling in math this year, please consider making the trip to Austin.  You really could make a difference.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."  Margaret Mead

Following Singapore

David Bradley sent me the following information: 

In 2011-12 the State Board of Education oversaw the rewriting of math standards.  This process, more than any prior math standards (TEKS) process, brought input from a large pool of math leaders and teachers.  Literally hundreds had input via the internet.  As the groups assembled in Austin to produce these new TEKS they relied upon a number of sources….Singapore math, the current TEKS, etc.  They even looked at Common Core Math Standards.   

 Notice the first source he mentions they used when creating the TEKS was Singapore math.  Take a look at this article about children in Singapore.  IT WILL SCARE YOU TO DEATH!

They believe our children can accomplish these rigorous standards.  Maybe they can, but will this be the cost!