Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Dr. Priscilla Chan have tapped James Shelton to run their philanthropic education efforts through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Zuckerberg and his wife made the announcement on Wednesday in a post on Facebook and a video on Facebook Live. They announced the creation of the foundation last year when their daughter, Max, was born.
Shelton is the former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and has experience in government, business and philanthropy. He was the leader of education efforts at the Gates Foundation and has been employed as president of 2U Inc., an education technology company that makes online courses for colleges and universities. He was also a partner at the NewSchools Venture Fund.
Both Chan and Zuckerberg believe in the potential of each individual. They want to unleash that potential for a better future. Shelton, who grew up in Washington, D.C., said he knew many peers who did not have access to the same education as he did. “Where you live is very determinant of how well you will do in school,” he said.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is focused on two educational priorities. The first is the development of technology-enabled personalized learning that allows K-12 students to learn in the ways most meaningful to them. In class, some children get left behind and some are not challenged enough. Personalized learning would help turn the classroom into more of a one-on-one tutoring experience between student and teacher.
The second priority is helping underserved communities to remove “barriers to success for the most vulnerable kids.” The couple has already backed another project called Education Super Highway, which brings broadband to schools nationwide. They have also donated to “Code.org,” a policy initiative that works to make computer science a part of the regular school curriculum in the United States. Shelton said the couple’s work can help kids learn 100 times as much as they do now.
Chan and Zuckerberg have been interested in education for a while. They have donated $100 million to schools in Newark, and they have pledged $120 million to schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have also invested $15 million in AltSchool, a network of private schools. Dr. Chan is also working on The Primary School, a free private school that will provide health care and education for students and their families.
Zuckerberg and Chan have pledged to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares to philanthropy over the couple’s lifetime. The pledge is one of the largest philanthropic gifts in history. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is set up as a limited liability company, or LLC, owned and controlled by Zuckerberg. Because it is not a charitable trust or a private foundation, it gives the couple more options in both in the investments they make and in the activities they engage in. This was initially controversial, but Zuckerberg has vigorously defended the decision.