Insider Insight on Innovation

One of the interesting education debates is around the issue of "innovation" - what is it? What is the role of the federal government, foundation community, and private capital markets? How does regulation inhibit innovative solutions and discourage private capital investments? What are the best - and most appropriate - policy levers the Federal government can employ to engage education entrepreneurs on some of our nation's most pressing education challenges?

The Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation Fund competitions represented an unprecedented federal investment in supporting innovation and creative reforms. However, they also stirred debate around the role of for-profits vs. non-profit solution providers and if there was a more pressing need for start-up funding or scale up funding.

The sector has seen also seen a number of organizations helping to scale and incubate innovative start-ups. New School Venture Fund is raising another round of funding and continues to help scale promising human capital and charter organizations. STARTL, backed with foundation funding, is exploring how to accelerate and scale education innovation. Doug Lynch at the University of Pennsylvania has convened a number of leading non-profits and for-profits to explore new approaches to education, including hosting an education business plan competition. ASU and NeXtAdvisors recently held an Education Innovation Summit that attracted 200 organizations, including 53 companies. One of the keynote addresses was provided by Silicon Valley legend Reed Hastings who discussed his acquisition of DreamBox Learning. News Corps recently acquired Wireless Generation, capping a year in which we saw unprecedented private equity interest in the education sector.

We asked our Insiders a number of questions around where innovation is most needed, the greatest barriers to the effective use of technology, which arguments are the most compelling for online learning, and how effective they believe some federal programs are in terms of improving education. We also asked for their opinions on the recommendations released by the Digital Learning Council and the National Education Technology Plan, including how they might prompt state and federal policy action.

We also added a new element to this month's survey. Working with the Aspen Institute, we asked some of the same questions to the Aspen Institute's Education Innovation Forum's participants. This allowed us to compare the "insider" view to those outside the Beltway. In some areas, there was agreement but in others, a surprising disconnect.

Joining us for a discussion on the results will be our special guest, Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement


Jim Shelton is the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, managing a portfolio that includes most of the Department's competitive teacher quality, school choice and learning technology programs, housed in the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Previously, he served as a program director for the education division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, managing the foundation's national programs and work in the northeast region of the United States. Shelton has also been a partner and the East Coast lead for NewSchools Venture Fund and co-founded LearnNow, a school management company that later was acquired by Edison Schools. He spent over four years as a senior management consultant with McKinsey & Company in Atlanta, Ga., where he advised CEOs and other executives on issues related to corporate strategy, business development, organizational design, and operational effectiveness. Upon leaving McKinsey, he joined Knowledge Universe, Inc., where he launched, acquired and operated education-related businesses.

Shelton holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Atlanta's Morehouse College as well as master's degrees in business administration and education from Stanford University.

Shelton currently resides in his hometown, Washington, D.C., with his wife, Sonia, and two sons, Justice and Jameson