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College Board's Indiana connections

Education Week reports that the College Board is the latest education services provider to jump on the Common Core bandwagon, creating tests aligned with the controversial national standards.

EdWeek's Catherine Gewertz reports (subscription only) that the company is "talking with policymakers and educators in states at the K-12 and higher education levels" about its new testing programs. "The College Board has also enlisted people with strong education connections in the Midwest, where ACT (a competitor) has traditionally been dominant."

Two of the people she cites, indeed, have strong education connections in Indiana, but they might not be connections the College Board is pleased to have. Jon Gubera, the company's new head of state government relations, was at the center of the Christel House grade-changing scandal as chief accountability officer for former Superintendent Tony Bennett. He left the Indiana Department of Education just as the charter school's grade changed from a C to an A.

Todd Huston, who oversees state and district partnerships for the College Board, is in an even more awkward position as Indiana debates the Common Core. He's a Republican state lawmaker, a member of the House education committee and believed by many to be the real political muscle behind Bennett.

Huston was chief of staff for the first half of Bennett's term and then joined California-based Cisco Systems. Interestingly, Cisco sold Huston's former employer $1.7 million worth of video-conferencing equipment.

Superintendent Glenda Ritz and her staff at the Indiana Department of Education don't know why the equipment was purchased. The department doesn't even have the bandwidth capability to accommodate the high-tech equipment, which included two high-definition monitors at $6,500 each.

Huston was moving from Cisco to the College Board at the time Gubera and his other former colleagues were scrambling to change Christel House's grade, but his name surfaces in another set of embarrassing emails. Huston is copied on all of the correspondence involving Gov. Mitch Daniels' tantrum over the Howard Zinn book, "A People's History of the United States."

Huston is the one who places Chuck Little, director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association, in Daniels' crosshairs, forwarding an email Little sent to IUSA members about the proposed Republican Senate budget in April 2009.

"I thought you might want to see this," Huston writes in an email sent to Daniels, Bennett, Christopher Ruhl and Ryan Kitchell. "This is from the group that is getting a mountain full of stimulus money and their only comments about the Senate budget is how bad it is for them. Never, ever enough money for them. Unbelievable."

The email disclosures cost Bennett his new job as Commissioner of Education in Florida. Several of the top aides he took with him from Indiana quickly resigned, as well. So far, the Indiana participants in the email trail, including Heather Neal, top legislative aide to Gov. Mike Pence, are still on the job.

The College Board might want to rethink state assignments for Gubera and Huston, whose Indiana education ties probably don't look as attractive as they did a few months ago.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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