Edsurge announced in July that it had received grants from the Gates Foundation and from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative totaling $1.45 million. And in December, the media company announced it had raised $2.5 million in venture capital.

The latter brings the total of its venture funding to $8.2 million (according to Crunchbase); it’s taken in almost $7 million in grants from the Gates Foundation alone.

(Disclosure: I get about $1000 a month from Patreon supporters. And you wonder why I can’t do this any more.)

Edsurge often claims that the money it’s raised does not shape its coverage – something about “full editorial control.” But the grant money clearly supports research and writing on specific topics – personalized learning and the “whole child” in the case of the CZI funds. Edsurge’s assertions about its independence seem like half-truths at best.

Moreover, Edsurge runs sponsored articles on a regular basis (rarely marking these as such when they’re shared through social media or read through RSS feeds). This year, Edsurge published articles sponsored by Course Hero, Espark Learning, Metaverse, Zspace, Peergrade, OpenStax, UNC School of Education, Kiddom, Practice Labs, Salesforce, Massmutual Foundation, Dadaabc, the McGraw Hill Prize in Education, Screencast-o-matic, Newsela, Learnlaunch, D2L, Empatico, Classlink, Classcraft, Digital Promise, First, Covitality, Intuit Education, Magicears, Rethink Ed, Really Good Stuff, Woot Math, Edmentum, Knowledgeworks, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Reading Plus, Amazon Web Services, IMS Global Learning Consortium, Oneder, Microsoft, Vivi, Plagiarismcheck, Google, Gutenberg Technology, Advanced and Measured Progress, Achieve3000 Inc, Kami, Digitaled, and Discovery Education.

Some weeks, almost half the content on Edsurge was sponsored content.

That’s hardly independence. Rather, that is crafting and repeating the narratives about “the future of education” that the industry and investors want told.

With its latest fundraise this month, Edsurge says that it is again changing its mission. (It’s done so several times in the past with, for example, a brief focus on selling schools procurement services.) The latest version has something to do with writing about “the future of learning. (And that is just perfect because the ed-tech industry continues to be so roundly ignorant of its history. I can continue to focus on “the history of the future of learning” to help people understand what’s actually going on and why, with a much more critical context, rather than paying attention to the weekly parade of sponsored stories, marketing, and mythmaking. Anyway...)

It is worth noting that Edsurge’s investors are some of the most active investors in ed-tech – that is, in “the future of learning” taking shape in a particular way. (You can see the full list of its financial backers here.) Edsurge shares investors with companies like ClassDojo, AltSchool, and Coursera, for starters.

With the latest funding round, Edsurge added two Chinese investors: TAL Education and, the former a giant test prep company (which was accused this year of financial fraud) and the latter an education media company. (TAL Education’s other education investments include Knewton and Singularity University to give you an idea about the mind-reading robots that it bets might be “the future.”)

It’s hardly a surprise that Edsurge has sought to tap into the rapidly growing Chinese education market. The largest investments in ed-tech this year were all in Chinese companies.

The vast majority of that money went Chinese tutoring companies. (That is to say, to test prep companies.) And remember: tutoring, by offloading education to parents (rather than to publicly-funded schools), exacerbates inequality. Nevertheless, tutoring has long been trotted out as the very best kind of teaching scenario by education reformers and industry types. (Thanks, Benjamin Bloom.) The “future of learning” as personalized learning – the narrative that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and others are paying Edsurge to spread – relies very much on a technological model of computer-based “tutoring.” That is to say, on test prep.

The “future of learning” in China – indeed the future of Chinese society more broadly – also seems to be deeply intertwined with the future of surveillance. “Smart uniforms” to track students. Facial recognition cameras to gauge their attentiveness and comprehension. An “all-seeing credit score system” that ascertains who is trustworthy, who has access to housing and healthcare, who can apply to certain schools and certain jobs.

Enjoy this “future of learning,” everyone. Its storyteller here is well-funded and well-networked.

Audrey Watters


Who's Funding Education Technology?

A Hack Education Project

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