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U.S. Deputy Ed. Secretary Jim Shelton to Step Down

By Lauren Camera — October 01, 2014 2 min read
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Reported by Lauren Camera and Alyson Klein

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton is planning to resign his post as the number two official at the U.S. Department of Education at the end of this year.

Before being promoted to deputy secretary, Shelton was the assistant secretary for innovation and improvement, where he managed a portfolio of high-profile competitive-grant programs targeted at improving teacher quality, public school choice, and education technology—including the nearly $1 billion Investing in Innovation contest.

In that role, he also focused intensely on how the public and private sectors can drive improvements in education.

“We have to teach people how to create a context that will let this sector flourish like the biosector, health care, or technology,” said Shelton last April.

More recently, though, Shelton has been advocating for using federal Title II dollars more intelligently to help build a stronger teacher community. He’s said he wants policymakers to show young people preparing to become teachers that “You don’t have to martyr yourself” to enter the profession. He’s also supported the notion of paying teachers more and emphasized the need for teaching to become a more prestigious profession.

Some critics of the department consider Shelton to be part and parcel of the so-called corporate reform movement. Many of his similarly-minded colleagues secured important roles in the Education Department under the Obama administration, much to the chagrin of some Democrats, including the teachers’ unions.

Before coming to the department, Shelton was a program director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which blasted onto the education scene, and more specifically, the teaching arena, before President Barack Obama took office.

The administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top competition and No Child Left Behind waivers, for example, are credited with influencing most states to revamp their teacher-evaluation policies, often in ways that mirror the Gates agenda.

Shelton also 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 CEOs and other executives on issues related to strategy, business development, and organizational design and effectiveness.

Here’s what Education Secretary Arne Duncan had to say about Shelton’s forthcoming departure:

Anyone who has ever worked with Jim Shelton will understand why we're sorry that he will be leaving the Department. Jim has brought a profound understanding of how to encourage innovation to address some of the biggest challenges faced by our education system and, more broadly, our country. From developing and managing signature reform programs such as the Investing in Innovation fund and Promise Neighborhoods to being a key leader on the President's My Brother's Keeper initiative and strengthening the Department's operations as deputy secretary, Jim has helped shape so much of this administration's education policy, programs and strategy over the last five-and-a-half years. Jim has earned a break, and we're so grateful to Jim for all he has contributed at ED, and to his family for letting him be part of the Education Department team for this long. I'm thankful to Jim not just for his invaluable contributions to our work, but for being able to rely on him as a friend and trusted partner."

Shelton’s departure is just the latest in a wave of high-profile exits from the department as the Obama admnistration enters the twilight of its tenure. Ann Whalen, Joanne Weiss and Carmel Martin, all of whom had a significant impact on the administration’s education agenda, have moved in within the last year.

Also, in departmental comings and goings, on Wednesday, September 24, Robert Gordon, who has been nominated to succeed Carmel Martin as assistant secretary for planning evaluation and policy, joined the Office of the Secretary as a consultant and senior advisor to Duncan. In this role, Gordon will advise Duncan on top administration priorities and initiatives while his nomination remains pending in the Senate. (President Barack Obama nominated Gordon May 1 of this year, and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee cleared his nomination June 25.)

Most recently, Gordon was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, but he is no stranger to the Obama administration. From 2009 to 2013, Gordon served in various roles at the Office of Management and Budget, including acting deputy director.