Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Power philanthropy rules the schools. Shelton moves to Z'berg.

From left, James H. Shelton III, a former deputy secretary of the United States Department of Education; Priscilla Chan; and Mark Zuckerberg. (N.Y. Times)

Power philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, and Mark Zuckerberg aren't content to offer funding to worthwhile education projects. For them, it's more a matter of leveraging their unparalleled wealth, through their tax-exempt foundations, to exercise direct power of public institutions like the nation's schools with little or no public accountability.

In the last 20 years, the U.S. Dept of Education has become little more than a conduit for power philanthropy with top bureaucrats moving freely between the DOE, the top ed-tech and testing corporations, ed-reform think-tanks, and the mega-foundations. Some, like Diane Ravitch, have called this growing mutualism the edu-industrial complex.

James H. Shelton III, a former deputy secretary of the DOE, is the prototypical edu-industrial manager. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced that they had hired Shelton to oversee their efforts in education, in the latest example of former federal officials who are taking up jobs in Silicon Valley.

The New York Times reports:
Mr. Shelton’s hiring is part of a stream of Washington officials going to work for tech titans. Among them are Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary, who is now senior vice president for corporate affairs at Amazon, and David Plouffe, a former senior adviser to President Obama who is chief adviser and a board member at Uber.
The trend is more recent in education. Former federal education officials often used to enter politics or take up positions at universities and research groups.
But in March, the Emerson Collective, an organization set up by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, said it had tapped Arne Duncan, the former education secretary, to lead an effort focused on young people in Chicago.
The advent of nontraditional philanthropic vehicles seems to be drawing new interest from veteran education officials. Both the Emerson Collective and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are limited liability companies, an organizational structure that enables investing and advocacy, as well as philanthropy.
In the past, I have referred to Shelton as "the man from Gates" because he was a key player in Bill Gates' successful push to drive Common Core as federal policy. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hired Shelton, a program officer at the Gates Foundation, to serve first as his head of innovation and then as the deputy secretary, responsible for a wide array of federal policy decisions. Shelton helped engineer Duncan's disastrous Race To The Top. He also led the Investing in Innovation Fund

Gov. Christie, Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Booker and Zuckerberg.
Shelton has previously worked for the NewSchools Venture Fund and co-founded LearnNow, a school management company that later was acquired by Edison Schools. Before entering the education world, he worked at McKinsey & Company advising corporate CEOs.

Investigations are still ongoing around Zuckerberg's previous "investments" in urban school reform. Nobody seems to know what happened to the $100 million Zuckerberg and Chan put into Newark in 2010.

Despite a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, we still don't even know exactly how that money was spent except that it was used to create a couple of new privately-run charter schools and that about a third of it was used to pay crony political and educational consultants and contractors through a slush fund set up by former mayor (now U.S. Senator) Corey Booker and Gov. Christie. We also know that it provided a nice tax break for Zuckerberg who has also pledged $120 million to schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For more on the Newark mystery, read Dale Russakoff's book, “The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?”

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