Zuckerberg, Chan Pick Jim Shelton to Run Education Program

column | Movers and Shakers

Zuckerberg, Chan Pick Jim Shelton to Run Education Program

By Betsy Corcoran (Columnist)     May 4, 2016

Zuckerberg, Chan Pick Jim Shelton to Run Education Program

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan said today that they're hiring Jim Shelton, currently president of online master's education provider, 2U, to head up their education efforts.

Last December, the billionaire couple said that that would give away 99% of their wealth--up to $45 billion by some estimates--via the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Zuckerberg, Chan and Shelton will discuss their plans during a live Facebook chat, slated for this morning at 11:00 am PT. (You can get a peek by looking at Zuckerberg's Facebook page here.) (Editor's update: We've embedded the video below.)

The news is simultaneously a surprise--and no surprise--to those who know Shelton.

Shelton joined 2U last June as Chief Impact Officer and was named President in December. Joining 2U was a coup for the young company, which enables students to earn graduate degrees at prestigious schools by studying through its online platform. Shelton had previously served six years in the Obama Administration's Department of Education. He also led the President's My Brother's Keeper initiative, which has catalyzed efforts around the country to build opportunities that will lead to strong futures for boys and men of color.

In the following 11 months, Shelton said he came to love working with 2U. "It was an incredible year and helped shape my thinking about how to scale high quality outcomes and how you take a comprehensive view of what outcomes matter," he told EdSurge in a phone interview. For instance, those outcomes include earning a degree but also advancing people's careers.

"We had a bright light for a year and he's going to stay an advisor to me," says Chip Paucek, chief executive of 2U. "I can't be more thrilled for Jim. This is truly one of those great opportunities because of the combination of who he is -- and what Mark and Priscilla want to achieve."

"Had I not been faced with what I think is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I'd be at 2U today, and extraordinarily happy," Shelton added.

And then there are those Zuckerberg billions.

Zuckerberg already supports several education efforts including: a personalized learning program developed by Summit Public Schools, a $120 million effort to improve schools throughout the San Francisco Peninsula, a much-debated effort in Newark, NJ, a private investing arm that has put funding into startups including Panorama, Altschool, and Ellevation Education and a private school, The Primary School, which will continue to be led by Chan. Those and related efforts, including education programs outside the US, will now be consolidated under Shelton.

Last December, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Max, Zuckerberg and Chan declared that they would give away 99% of their wealth during their lifetimes. Rather than create a nonprofit foundation, the pair gave Zuckerberg's wealth to a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), which, in turn, will fund programs with the goals of "unlocking human potential" and "promoting equity."

(Below is the video chat that Zuckerberg and Chan did with Shelton at Summit Public Schools on Wednesday.)

Education is the first but not last initiative that Zuckerberg and Chan will undertake, Shelton said. And because the organization is structured as an LLC (rather than a nonprofit foundation), it can pursue its goals through a variety of paths including: charitable donations, private investment and through lobbying for government-policy reforms.

Zuckerberg defended the choice to use an LLC last year on Facebook, writing: "By using an LLC instead of a traditional foundation, we receive no tax benefit from transferring our shares to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, but we gain flexibility to execute our mission more effectively. In fact, if we transferred our shares to a traditional foundation, then we would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC we do not. And just like everyone else, we will pay capital gains taxes when our shares are sold by the LLC." In late April, the Facebook board created a C-class of stock that will preserve Zuckerberg's ability to maintain control over the company even if he gives away shares.

Shelton said that he's been impressed by Zuckerberg and Chan's "big vision and [that they are] willing to be bold and build on kinds of things they were doing already." The couple has said they hope that children of their daughter's generation will learn "100 times more than what we learn today." In particular, Zuckerberg has spoken enthusiastically of personalized learning: "Having the ability to learn using the method that matters the most to you will help every child get ahead," he said here.

But personalized learning doesn't have to be just about scoring better on tests. "People have potentially overly narrowed the definition of personalized learning," Shelton cautioned. "We're taking it in the broadest sense: It should helps you engage a way that takes you to a different level. Not just what you know and what you want to know -- if we do that right, you can do personalized learning through projects, creating work--lots of things, not just adaptive platforms."

While technology will play a "significant" role in the work that the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative supports, Shelton added, there will be "a lot of things" in play.

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