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Emperor Arne Has No Clothes

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It was an "emperor has no clothes" moment in public education, and it took place on July 18 in a federal courtroom in Chicago.

The "emperor" in question was none other than Arne Duncan, who ran Chicago Public Schools from June 2001 to January 2009, at which he time took his act nationwide.

And the person who pointed out Arne's, shall we say, lack of apparel?

Her name is Annette Gurley. She worked for many years as a CPS teacher, assistant principal, and principal before moving up CPS's management ladder. She's now near the top rung of that ladder, serving as the district's Chief of Teaching and Learning. She reports directly to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

I know all this because I cross-examined Gurley on July 18 during a preliminary injunction hearing before United States District Court Judge John Z. Lee. I'm one of the lawyers currently waging an uphill battle to stop the largest round of school closings in U.S. history.

I listened carefully to Gurley's testimony during her direct examination. I liked her. In fact, I feel comfortable saying she was probably an excellent teacher and a first-rate principal.

When it came time for me to cross Gurley, I asked her a few questions about her latest job with CPS. (Given the expedited nature of the injunction proceeding, I hadn't had the opportunity to take her deposition ahead of time.)

Our district used to have a Chief Education Officer. We don't anymore. I wanted to find out whether Gurley's latest job was, but for the new title, essentially the same job that long-time Chief Education Officer Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins used to do.

Gurley told me it wasn't quite the same.

And then Arne's name popped up ...

Q. There is no chief education officer of the district, though, today, right?
A. Well, we have a CEO who has an education background.

Q. My question is a little different, because when we had Barbara Eason-Watkins we had a CEO as well, and -- correct?
A. The CEO at that time did not have an education background.

Q. That would be Secretary of Education Arne Duncan --
A.That is correct.

Q. -- who did not have an education background?
A. That is correct.

And there you have it. One of CPS's top executives, who also worked for decades in CPS schools, volunteered under oath that our nation's Secretary of Education "did not have an education background."

Your witness, Mr. Duncan.