Ed Tech

Miami-Dade Debacle Leaves Teachers Scrambling

In a lengthy message, Miami-Dade County School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho attempted to calm his district community after a chaotic start-of-school week that included distance learning outages and an about-face on usage of a new learning platform.

As the Miami Herald reported last week, a midweek school board meeting with some 400 public speakers and lasting 13 hours resulted in a decision to stop using My School Online, a virtual learning system produced by K12.

K12 sells online classes and curriculum. The district had signed a $15.3 million no-bid contract with the company during the summer to provide a distance learning option for students in K-12 after numerous staff and parents pleaded for adoption of a single learning system to simplify access. That deal excluded input from the school board. The platform would deliver course content selected by individual educators and maintained in the program and facilitate real-time interaction between teachers and students with its own form of web conferencing.

The morning after the school board vote, the district notified teachers to shift to Microsoft Teams or Zoom to teach their classes. And K12 immediately shut off access, leaving many educators scrambling to come up with replacements for lessons now stuck in the My School Online system.

According to the Miami-Herald, Carvalho denied that he ever personally signed the contract with K12, adding that the company had never received a single payment in spite of three weeks of training sessions provided to teachers, a week of practice access for families and a donation of $1.57 million to Carvalho's "Foundation for New Education Initiatives."

In his statement to the community, the superintendent noted that K12 "had acknowledged the shortcomings of the product." Those included technical challenges and connectivity issues unrelated to software functionality.

As one person tweeted, "I say this with no sarcasm, I swear. The @K12Learn system for @MDCPS was much better today. Only took 15 minutes of refreshing, logging off and ultimately restarting the computer but it worked. So it is getting better." Said a parent, "After a couple of attempts finally able get in. Now teacher's audio not working. This is not sustainable." Another parent complained, "My child has had the same error message (Error 401) since SATURDAY and has not been able to access her K-12 platform for school classes. I have spoken to K-12 eight times since Monday and we have exhausted all possible issues."

Adding to the struggles experienced by users, the district was hit with a number of distributed denial-of-service attacks. A 16-year-old student attending a South Miami high school admitted to setting off at least eight of those.

Along with announcing the suspension of K12 software, Carvalho also said he would be hiring a temporary "senior executive chief information officer" to focus on "security procedures and practices." The contractor would also do "an assessment of existing technology, critical processes, and current infrastructure."

He said he would back up any recommendations with a $5 million emergency appropriation "to support ITS infrastructure enhancements."

"We are doing all we can to protect this district, our data security, and give teachers and students a good experience," Carvalho wrote. "We must also recognize that distance learning will always have some limited connectivity issues, regardless of platform. This is true in our own daily lives and experiences in our homes, and we must recognize that personal Internet connectivity, individual device functionality, and other unknown variables may affect a certain percentage of users on any given day. But the overall experience must be much better than what has been experienced, and we will deliver that. Our community deserves no less."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.