Why Are Coding Bootcamps Going Out of Business?
22 July 2017 | 3:20 pm

Within the past week, two well-known and well-established coding bootcamps have announced they’ll be closing their doors: Dev Bootcamp, owned by Kaplan Inc., and The Iron Yard, owned by the Apollo Education Group (parent company of the University of Phoenix). Two closures might not make a trend… yet. But some industry observers have suggested we might see more “consolidation” in the coming months.

It appears that there are simply more coding bootcamps – almost 100 across the US and Canada – than there are students looking to learn to code. (That is to say, there are more coding bootcamps than there are people looking to pay, on average, $11,000 for 12 weeks of intensive training in a programming language or framework).

All this runs counter, of course, to the pervasive belief in a “skills gap” – that there aren’t enough qualified programmers to fill all the programming jobs out there, and that as such, folks looking for work should jump at the chance to pay for tuition at a bootcamp. Code.org and other industry groups have suggested that there are currently some 500,000 unfilled computing jobs, for example. But that number is more invention than reality, a statistic used to further a particular narrative about the failure of schools to offer adequate technical training. That 500,000 figure, incidentally, comes from a Bureau of Labor Statistics projection about the number of computing and IT jobs that will added to the US economy by 2024, not the number of jobs that are available – filled or unfilled – today.

Perhaps instead of “everyone should learn to code,” we should push for everyone to learn how to read the BLS jobs report.

There isn’t really much evidence of a “skills gap” – there’s been no substantive growth in wages, for example, that one would expect if there was a shortage in the supply of qualified workers. And while we can talk about jobs that will be added to the overall economy in the coming years, it’s important to remember that the job market isn’t national; it’s local. A Haskell programmer in Silicon Valley might earn $150,000 a year, for example; a Haskell programmer in Des Moines probably won’t. Hell, there might not be any Haskell jobs in all of Iowa.

For its part, Dev Bootcamp had coding bootcamps in Austin, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. The Iron Yard had coding bootcamps in Atlanta, Austin, Charleston, Dallas, Durham, Greenville, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Nashville, Orlando, Raleigh, Tampa Bay, and Washington DC. (An Iron Yard location in Detroit had already closed its doors.) In all these locations, the bootcamps boasted that they were working with high profile local employers. But the question remains: did local employers really want or need bootcamp grads? Or rather, there are (at least) two questions: were there a sufficient number of tech jobs in these cities to make the bootcamp tuition and time spent worthwhile; and was the training at a bootcamp sufficient to get hired?

In December of last year, Bloomberg published a warning to prospective students: “Want a Job in Silicon Valley? Keep Away From Coding Schools.” The article contended that many companies have found coding bootcamp grads unprepared for technical work: “These tech bootcamps are a freaking joke,” one tech recruiter told the publication. “My clients are looking for a solid CS degree from a reputable university or relevant work experience.” Google’s director of education echoed this sentiment: “Our experience has found that most graduates from these programs are not quite prepared for software engineering roles at Google without additional training or previous programming roles in the industry.”

Of course, with all these regional schools, the bootcamps aren’t really training employees for work in the Bay Area (although I think that is part of their marketing – get a certificate, and you can land a job with a famous tech company). And despite the poor reputation bootcamps might have among some tech firms, Course Report, a review site for bootcamps, touts these schools’ successful job placement rates. Course Report claims that among those graduates it surveyed, 73% had found full-time employment using the skills they’d learned, and those had seen an average salary increase of $26,000. No doubt, it’s worth pointing out that there is very little independent research to validate these sorts of claims – much of the research is industry-sponsored, and much of the data, self-reported.

Also worth noting: that of those surveyed by Course Report, 60% already had bachelor’s degrees. Arguably, this makes the bootcamp certification more of an addition to the college degree than a substitute for one. And this complicates any discussion of credentialing and hiring – does someone land a programming job because she or he has a college degree or because she or he has a coding bootcamp certificate? How might gender and race play into this?

How might the school itself play into this? I don’t just mean coding bootcamps in general, but specific bootcamp brands. Brands like Dev Bootcamp and The Iron Yard, obviously, have taken a hit to their “legitimacy” by closing (and their students will feel this in turn) – I’m borrowing this term from sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom – but arguably these schools were also associated with what McMillan Cottom calls “lower ed” in the first place. That is, they’d become subsidiaries of the for-profit colleges Kaplan and the University of Phoenix respectively – coding bootcamps as “the new for-profit higher ed.” Does that association matter to bootcamp students, and just as importantly, does that association matter to employers? Again, there's not much research.

For-profit higher ed has been in the news a lot in the last couple of years, and the news hasn’t been so good: stories about the high rate of student loan debt, charges of fraudulent marketing, and the closures of chains like Corinthian Colleges and ITT (a technical college, to boot). According to one study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the average student at a for-profit college is actually worse off after attending. That is, these students are less likely to be employed; and if they do have jobs, they are more likely to earn less.

But of course the “average student” at a for-profit college is not the same as the “average student” at a coding bootcamp. As McMillan Cottom documents in her book Lower Ed, “the typical for-profit college student is a woman and a parent. For-profit colleges dominate in producing black bachelor’s degree holders.” According to the latest survey (again, survey) from Course Report, 55% of bootcamp students are male; 70% are white. 39% paid for their bootcamp tuition themselves; and 17% took out loans. 96% of those enrolled for-profit colleges, by comparison, take out loans.

Much of the latter is federal loan money. Bootcamps, on the other hand, are not eligible for federal financial aid. The Obama Administration did launch a pilot program – the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) initiative – to evaluate the possibility of “non-traditional providers” like bootcamps becoming aid-eligible. But there’s been no word from the Trump Administration if this will be continued or expanded. (Among those bootcamps participating: The Flatiron School in partnership with SUNY Empire State College, MakerSquare in partnership with the University of Texas Austin, HackerRank in partnership with Wilmington University, and Epicodus in partnership with Marylhurst University.) Perhaps bootcamps (and their investors) were hoping that federal financial aid would subsidize their operations like it has done the rest of for-profit higher ed; but that money hasn’t materialized.

Nevertheless, coding bootcamps – and “learn-to-code” startups more generally – remain one of the most active areas for ed-tech investment. Over $70 million in venture capital has been funneled in coding bootcamps so far in 2017. But unlike in the recent past, there have yet to be any big acquisitions in the industry this year. In 2016, Capella Education, another for-profit college chain, acquired the bootcamps Hackbright Academy and Dev Mountain; and fellow for-profit Strayer Education acquired the New York Code and Design Academy. (Other 2016 bootcamp buys: General Assembly acquired Bitmaker, Bloc acquired DevBridge, and Full Stack Academy acquired Starter League.) There’s been some criticism of those bootcamp founders who sold their companies to for-profits and subsequently “checked out,” allowing the quality of their offerings to suffer. But that’s likely what happens if your company raises venture capital: a bigger company buys you (and crushes you).

When Dev Bootcamp announced it was closing, the company admitted that it had been “unable to find a sustainable model” that didn't compromise its vision for “high-quality, immersive coding training that is broadly accessible to a diverse population.” Indeed, despite the tech industry’s disdain for the education system and particularly for the politics of its (unionized) labor force, “high-quality, immersive coding training” is going to be an expensive, labor-intensive proposition. For its part, the for-profit higher education industry has not been known to invest heavily in instruction (faculty or curriculum); its dollars – primarily federal financial aid dollars at that – have gone instead to marketing and recruitment.

So it may just be that the business of teaching everyone to code (and to code well and to do so without federal money) isn’t a very good business at all, particularly at the sort of scale that for-profit higher ed chains – career colleges and coding bootcamps alike – and their investors have sought.


Hack Education Weekly News
21 July 2017 | 12:00 pm

(National) Education Politics


US Secretary of Education spoke to ALEC this week. The American Legislative Exchange Council is a right-wing organization that pens model legislation, including the “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-union legislation, and laws that expand virtual schools. (Here’s a list of education organizations that are members or sponsors.) Betsy DeVos has previously invested in K–12 Inc, a prominent ALEC member. Education Week reminds us “Why Betsy DeVos and ALEC Are Natural Allies on School Choice.”

The Department of Education released DeVos’s remarks to ALEC, which include an invocation of Margaret Thatcher’s famous quotation “There is no such thing as society.”

Via The Washington Post: “DeVos tells conservative lawmakers what they like to hear: More local control, school choice.” Protestors were outside the meeting in force.

“Local control,” sure. But as Education Week reports, “States Bristle as DeVos Ed. Dept. Critiques Their ESSA Plans.”

Elsewhere in irony, WaPo’s Valerie Strauss writes about “The deep irony in Betsy DeVos’s first speech on special education.”

President Trump Made a Promise to Black Colleges. It Hasn’t Happened,” writes The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adam Harris.

Via Politico: “DeVos: Civil rights office will return to being a ‘neutral’ agency.” I do not know what it means to be “neutral” on civil rights unless you just replace “neutral” with “whiteness.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “More than 50 groups have signed a letter demanding that Candice E. Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, reject a statement she made this month in a New York Times interview. Ms. Jackson told the newspaper that ‘90 percent’ of campus sexual-assault accusations resulted from an accuser’s regret over a sexual encounter.” Also from CHE: “Key Democrat Calls for DeVos to Remove Top Civil-Rights Official.”

Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “White House Touts FCC Chair’s Plan to Scale Back Net Neutrality.”

Inside Higher Ed reports that “The Republican budget resolution envisions more than $236 billion in cuts to mandatory spending for education programs over 10 years.”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “The House veterans affairs committee on Wednesday unanimously approved an update to the Post–9/11 GI Bill, an ambitious package of legislation that would lift the lifetime time limit on use of benefits and restore aid for veterans affected by closures of for-profit colleges, among other provisions.”

The Kenyan Ministry of Education says that the Bridge International Academies are not complying with the country’s laws, and the company, which runs chains of schools across the developing world, has not received approval for its curriculum.

Africa is a Country continues its coverage of Bridge, “Why is Liberia’s Government rushing to sell its public schools to U.S. for-profits?”

Of course none of this – not Africa is a Country’s excellent reporting nor Peg Tyre’s recent story in the NYT – stops Nicholas Kristof from touting Bridge as a “solution.”

(State and Local) Education Politics


Via Education Week: “Minecraft Party to Raise Money for Technology in Philly Schools.”

Via Chalkbeat: “New York City continues to lose track of thousands of school computers, audit finds.”

Immigration and Education


Via Inside Higher Ed: “Twelve higher education associations this week registered ‘serious concern’ about a proposal under consideration at the Department of Homeland Security that would require international students to reapply annually for permission to stay in the U.S.”

Education in the Courts


Via NBC: “Arizona: Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination In Mexican American Studies Ban Back in Court.”

The curriculum company Great Minds is appealing a lawsuit in which it claimed that FedEx had violated the “open” in its open educational resources by making copies.

Via The Washington Post: “Iran sentences Princeton graduate student to 10 years for espionage, report says.”

Testing, Testing…


Via Education Week: “Thousands of English-Learners Fall Short on Test of Language Skills.” The test in question in ACCESS 2.0, which recently changed how it was scored.

More colleges are going “test optional” for applicants: Dominican College, High Point University, the University of Evansville, and Hanover College.

The Business of Student Loans


Via The New York Times: “As Paperwork Goes Missing, Private Student Loan Debts May Be Wiped Away.”

Via NPR: “Private Student Loans: The Rise And Fall (And Rise Again?)” (Sallie Mae says that student borrowing is rising.)

Via NPR: “Teachers With Student Debt: The Struggle, The Causes And What Comes Next.”

There’s more research on student debt in the research section below.

The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed


Via Edsurge: “Dev Bootcamp Community Reacts to Closure Decision.” (Disclosure alert.)

Via The San Francisco Chronicle: “Dev Bootcamp couldn’t tough out industry shakeout.”

The Iron Yard announced this week that it will also be closing. This coding bootcamp was acquired by the University of Phoenix’s parent company, Apollo Education Group, in 2015.

“Troubled Colleges Rebrand Under Faux-Latin Names,” Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reports. The for-profit Everest College is now “Altierus,” and DeVry is “Adtalem.”

Online Education and the Once and Future “MOOC”


The LA Times asks, “ In this digital self-help age, just how effective are MasterClass’s A-list celebrity workshops?”

Campus Technology rewrites the press release that Examity will be used for identify verification and proctoring in edX classes.

Coursera has a new partner, the insurance company AXA, which will offer some 300 Coursera classes to its employees.

“What if the US had an OU?” the Open University’s Martin Weller asks.

Meanwhile on Campus…


This LA Times story is something else: “An overdose, a young companion, drug-fueled parties: The secret life of USC med school dean.”

Anya Kamenetz interviews Purdue’s president Mitch Daniels about the future of higher ed.

Campus Reform continues to make accusations against professors and stir up hate mobs against them. From The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A Case of Mistaken Identity Spurs Hateful Messages for a Sikh Professor.”

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “U. of Central Florida Student Says He Was Suspended for Viral Tweet of Ex’s Apology.”

“My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges – and I almost lost myself in the process,” writes Anisah Karim. This is a good example of why we should be more critical when we hear about schools that boast everyone was admitted to college – at what cost?

“Students who can’t afford uniforms in New Orleans all-charter-system are routinely barred from attending school. And their parents can end up in jail,” AlterNet reports.

Via NPR: “When Black Hair Violates The Dress Code.”

“My Black Stepson Is Proof That Our Schools Put White Culture First” by Andre Perry. Important thoughts here on social emotional learning and structural racism.

Via The Washington Post: “Some D.C. high schools are reporting only a fraction of suspensions.”

Via Education Week: “For Principals, Student Sexting a Speeding ‘Freight Train,’ Full of Peril.”

Accreditation and Certification


Credly Receives Open Badges Certification,” Campus Technology reports.

Go, School Sports Team!


Hugh Freeze resigns as Ole Miss’ football coach,” The Clarion-Ledger reports. The move comes after it was revealed he made a call to an escort service.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Former National Football League player and current Fox NFL analyst Chris Spielman has filed a federal lawsuit against his alma mater, Ohio State University, claiming his image and those of other athletes were used without permission.”

Via Deadspin: “Teens Discover The Boston Garden Has Ignored Law For Decades, May Owe State Millions.”

From the HR Department


Rebecca Schuman is back with her annual “Rate My JIL,” where she skewers the higher ed job market. She takes on a job posting at the University of Illinois Chicago that pays just $28K, for starters. IHE writes about the “outcry,” and “Dean Dad” Matt Reed responds with his own “speculative postmortem.”

Former Under Secretary of Education and former NewSchools Venture Fund CEO Ted Mitchell is the new head of the lobbying group American Council on Education (ACE).

Via Patheos: “BYU-Idaho Professor Fired After Defending LGBT Rights in Private Facebook Post.”

Personalized learningequals cutting the teacher workforce in Oklahoma.

Via NPR: “Number Of Teens Working Summer Jobs Declines.”

The Business of Job Training


Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Ads Spell Out What Career and Technical Education Really Is – and Who It’s For.”

Stanford University’s Larry Cuban publishes part 3 of his series “Coding: The New Vocationalism.”

Edsurge investigates the validity of a claim it published that “people will change careers 15 times over their lifetimes.” Perhaps fact-check these sorts of things before publishing them?

Via the Google blog: “Google introduces Hire, a new recruiting app that integrates with G Suite.”

Google boasts about teaching skills” using VR.

Sound the “factory model of education klaxon”! Edsurge on “Bridging the School-to-Business Gap: What Public Schools Can Learn From Industry.”

Contests and Competitions


Via NPR: “Students Compete In First-Ever International High School Robotics Competition.”

The New York Times reports that “Burundi Robotics Team Vanishes After U.S. Competition.” Authorities do not believe foul play is involved – two of the students were seen crossing into Canada.

Via Techcrunch: “Literacy XPRIZE starts field tests of semifinalist apps in LA, Philadelphia and Dallas.”

This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines


Will Virtual Reality Drive Deeper Learning?” asks Edutopia.

Is gender inequality in technology a good thing?” asks Donald Clark, using “neurodiversity” as an excuse to justify the ongoing exclusion of women from the field.

Can predictive analytics help higher ed save $1M a year?” asks Education Dive.

(Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)

Upgrades and Downgrades


Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla insists that “Venture capital has less sexual harassment than other industries.” (Khosla’s education portfolio includes Kiddom, Affirm, Bridge International Academies, littleBit, and Piazza. His wife is the co-founder of OER organization CK–12.)

Via Wired’s Nitasha Tiku: “VC Firms Promise to Stamp Out Sexual Harassment. Sounds Familiar.” That is, it sounds a lot like the industry’s promises to address diversity.

The Teaching Channel, a video-based professional development organization heavily backed by the Gates Foundation, is becoming a for-profit company.

Via KQED’s Mindshift: “MIT’s Scratch Program Is Evolving For Greater, More Mobile Creativity.”

Via Edsurge: “Amazon Inspire Goes Live (But Without Controversial Share Feature).”

The Verge profiles the SocialStar Creator Camp, a summer camp for teens wanting to become viral Internet stars.

“Together, technology and teachers can revamp schools,” says The Economist, touting Skinner’s work – it’s like the author read my work but didn’t really read my work.

Via Education Week: “Personalized Learning: ‘A Cautionary Tale’.”

eCampus News offers “9 online learning predictions for the upcoming term.” The list includes cloud computing, ffs.

It’s 2017, and ed-tech is so “disruptive” that we’re still debating the LMS, a technology that is at least 30 years old (and that’s just if you date it to the founding of Blackboard. It’s about 50 years old if you recognize some of PLATO’s functionality is LMS-like.) From WCET: “In Defense of the LMS.” Via Bryan Alexander: “Moodle and the next LMS: reflections and more questions.” Brian Lamb and Jim Groom offers some challenges to the next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE) – because if all else fails, go with a new acronym. More on the LMS in the research section below.

Speaking of a very strange sense of history: most of these items touted by Edsurge as “90s ed-tech” were not invented in the 1990s.

Robots and Other Ed-Tech SF


Let Robots Teach American Schoolkids,” says George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen. Hell, why not let robots teach economics at George Mason University?!

Via Edsurge: “At Louisville Summer Camps, Robots Meet Literacy to Support Vulnerable Students.” (Disclosure alert.)

More on robots in the contest section above.

(Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Ed Reform


Who’s received Gates Foundation grant money since 1998? I’ve published descriptions of the 3000+ grants here.

Venture Capital and the Business of Ed-Tech


University World News reports that the private equity firm has invested $275 million to build a platform for African universities – Honoris United Universities.

Kahoot has raised $10 million in Series A funding from Creandum, Northzone, and Microsoft Ventures. The gaming company has raised $26.5 million total. Edsurge reports it’s also joined the Disney Accelerator program.

Ironhack has raised $3 million in Series A funding form JME Venture Capital. It’s another coding bootcamp. Good luck, guys.

Career development company Learnerbly has raised $2.09 million in seed funding from Frontline Ventures, Claire Davenport, Future Planet Capital, Jason Stockwood, London Co-Investment Fund, Playfair Capital, Renaud Visage, R Ventures, and Stephan Thomas.

PeopleGrove has raised $1.8 million in seed funding from Reach Capital, Bisk Ventures, Collaborative Fund, FLOODGATE, GSV Acceleration, Karl Ulrich, LaunchCapital, RiverPark Ventures, and University Ventures. The mentorship platform has raised $2.53 million total.

KickUp has raised $730,000 in seed funding from Red House Education. The professional development company has raised $2.27 million total.

Escape Technology has raised an undisclosed amount of money from Alpine Investors.

Advertising company AcademixDirect has acquired “career exploration app” PathSource.

Silverback Learning has acquired testing company EdifyAssess.

Privacy, Surveillance, and Information Security


Schools collect more data, but how is it used?” asks The Hechinger Report’s Nichole Dobo.

From the Ed-Fi Alliance’s blog: “The Ed-Fi Alliance Releases Evolutionary Data Standard v2.1.”

Via Campus Technology: “Average Cost Per Record of US Data Breach in Ed: $245.”

Via Education Week: “University, middle school partner on cybersecurity education.”

Data and “Research”


According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of colleges and universities eligible to award financial aid has fallen precipitously in the last year. “The Culling of Higher Ed Begins,” says Inside Higher Ed. “Numerous schools shut down programs due to the threat of the Obama administration’s ‘gainful employment’ rules, which yank financial aid eligibility from for-profit college programs where students take on too much debt and earn little in return,” Buzzfeed points out.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “A new report from Third Way, a centrist think tank, attempts to measure higher education’s performance across sectors and types of institutions. The group used federal data on completion, students’ earnings six years after enrollment and loan repayment rates. The report features aggregate figures for four-year institutions, community colleges and certificate-granting institutions, with breakouts by sector.”

“Research for Action has released the results of a two-year examination of three states’ performance-based funding formulas for public colleges,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

Via Edsurge: “How Much Do Educators Care About Edtech Efficacy? Less Than You Might Think.”

Via Edsurge: “‘Precision Education’ Hopes to Apply Big Data to Lift Diverse Student Groups.” (This headline pairs nicely with the one above and one below, don’t you think?)

Via EdWeek’s Market Brief: “Adaptive Learning Products Gain Ground in K–12, Market Survey Finds.”

Code.org boasts that “Girls set AP Computer Science record…skyrocketing growth outpaces boys.” The industry-backed group is taking credit for the increase in the number of AP CS test-takers. There’s a nifty infographic, which Melinda Gates shared on Twitter. (No disclosure in the Edsurge coverage that the College Board, Code.org, and Edsurge itself are all backed by Gates Foundation money.) Like Tim Stahmer, I have some questions about that graph. I mean, the number of AP exams in CS recently doubled too. Is it that surprising that, in turn, the number of exams taken grew as well? How well are these students doing in the AP courses (and not just on the exam)? And “why are underrepresented minorities and poor over-represented in Code.org courses?” Mark Guzdial asks.

Well, I suppose Senator John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis was bound to elicit these sorts of stories. From The Atlantic: “Do Cellphones Cause Brain Cancer or Not?”

Via Inside Higher Ed: “An overwhelming majority of colleges and universities did not change priority aid deadlines in response to an earlier financial aid cycle last year, according to a survey of member institutions by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.”

“A new research paper finds that excess credit hour policies don’t lead to completion, just more student debt,” Inside Higher Ed reports.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that rising student debt levels are a substantial contributor to the decline in home ownership among young Americans.”

Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill provides data on the “Academic LMS Market Share By Enrollments” – part 1 and part 2.

“Why Americans Think So Poorly of the Country’s Schools” – Jack Schneider on polls and surveys about public education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the Campaign for Accountability has had to update its list of scholars who’ve been funded by Google, due to a number of criticisms and flaws in the data. Worth noting: the group is funded by Google’s arch-nemesis, Oracle.

RIP


Maryan Mirzakhani, the first woman to with math’s Field Medal, has died from cancer. A professor at Stanford, she was 40. What a loss.

Icon credits: The Noun Project


'Personalized Learning' and the Power of the Gates Foundation to Shape Education Policy
18 July 2017 | 1:45 pm

In early June, I gave a keynote at the OEB MidSummit on the history of "personalization.“ I only had 20 minutes, so it’s a partial history at best. But as ”personalized learning" has become one of the most prominent buzzwords in education technology, I think it’s worth investigating its origins and its trajectory at length.

”Personalized learning" is often tied to the progressive educators of the early twentieth century – to John Dewey and Maria Montessori, for example – even though much of the educational software that’s marketed by Silicon Valley and education reformers as “personalized learning” has very little to do with progressive educational theory, except perhaps at the most superficial level. Sure, there’s an invocation of “choice” and “moving-at-your-own-pace,” but the progenitor for much of today’s “personalized learning” seems to be ad-tech rather than ed-tech.

As part of my Spencer Fellowship, I’m investigating the networks of investors and entrepreneurs who are shaping education technology policies and products, and I’ve decided to focus on how “personalized learning” has come to dominate the narratives surrounding technology-based education reform.

There are two obvious sources of funding and PR for “personalized learning” – the Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The former has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on “personalized learning” products and projects; the latter promises it will spend billions.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative does not list on its website where its money goes. (It’s a for-profit company, not a charitable foundation so it does not fall under the same reporting requirements as the Gates Foundation does.) As such, it’s going to take me some work to piece together exactly what CZI is funding. (Organizations we know have received CZI money: Chiefs for Change, the College Board, Edsurge (to promote personalized learning projects), and tutoring company BYJU’s, for starters.)

The Gates Foundation’s investments in “personalized learning” are much easier to track. And to that end I have a couple of projects of my own to unveil:

The amount of money that the Gates Foundation has awarded in education grants is simply staggering: some $15 billion across some 3000+ grants since the organization was founded in 1998.

The Gates Foundation first started funding grants “to support personalized learning environments where all students achieve” in 2000, and it has backed the development, adoption, and marketing of “personalized learning” every year since then. (It’s not clear when a school gets a grant for “personalized learning” what software it purchases – is that software also funded by the Gates Foundation? I am assuming here that “personalized learning” necessarily means buying software.)

With billions of dollars spent on shaping policies and narratives, the Gates Foundation remains one of the most influential (and anti-democratic) forces in education. As such, it gets to define what “personalized learning” is – what it looks like.

(Still want to insist that “personalized learning” is progressive? Never forget: Bill Gates once called constructionism, progressive educator Seymour Papert’s theory of learning, “bullshit.” Or at least, I’ll never forget…)



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