K12, Inc Fired After 270k Miami Students Suffer Disastrous First Two Weeks of Fall Term
I have to admit up front, after the vast majority of the US’s 76 million K-12 students and 20 million postsecondary students had to move online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is remarkable how few disasters we have seen with emergency remote teaching migrations. While there are plenty of complaints about course quality, tuition breaks, and other aspects of remote teaching, for the most part school has been available and EdTech platforms have handled the surge in demand. Of course, when we have real problems, they can be particularly frustrating for students, parents, and teachers.
Over the past two weeks we have seen what I believe is one of the two biggest EdTech failures leading to large-scale outages at schools this year (the other being the Fairfax County Public School system in April). The nation’s fourth-largest K-12 district, Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida with more than 270,000 students, has seen a series of technical problems disrupting students from taking class. Yesterday the school board had enough and canceled the $15.3 million no-bid contract that the district had signed with K12, Inc to provide a suite of learning platforms, effective immediately, leading teachers to scramble and migrate back to Zoom and Microsoft Teams usage.
Initial Move to Zoom and Teams
When COVID-19 hit in March of this year, Miami-Dade worked with teachers to use a combination of Zoom and Microsoft Teams to provide a learning platform for teachers. 1 According to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, in June the district assumed they would be able to move back to face-to-face delivery for the fall.
By mid-July it was apparent that remote instruction would remain in place through 2020, and Miami-Dade announced My School Online, its “distance learning option for those students in grades K-12 who wish to continue their education full-time through innovative learning environments but still maintain their connection to their enrolled schools”.
Enter My School Online and K12
The plan for Fall 2020 through My School Online was to have K12, Inc provide the overall platform. This was a relatively new move for the company that has long been a virtual charter school operator, with much of the strategy being developed in response to the pandemic. In other words, this was a new use case and platform setup.
K12 does not build all of the software, instead leveraging D2L Brightspace as the LMS, and Newrow, a company acquired by Kaltura in January, as the video conferencing platform for live teaching sessions. K12 builds the overall platform that integrates these different tools into one solution.
When school started Monday of last week (August 31st), teachers and students faced immediate problems being able to access the MSO platform, particularly the video conferencing.
Adding Cyberattack to Software Problems
K12 admitted a number of problems that week, but the platform was not the only issue as described last Wednesday in The Panther, a student newspaper. 2
The New York Times reported on the surprise finding on the attack last Thursday.
While officials figured out the cyberattack last week, problems persisted with My School Online this week, leading to an extended discussion at the school board meeting Wednesday night as described by the Miami Herald yesterday.
The $15.3 million agreement for K12 to power My School Online was awarded as a no-bid contract based on an exemption from procurement processes for curricular materials. Besides avoiding the paperwork and evaluation processes, Miami-Dade also made the decision in the district office, apparently with no input from educators working at the schools.
It turns out that the contract was never finalized and executed, so there was no cancellation, and K12 is not disputing this decision. According to a K12 statement after the board meeting:
EdTech and Management Problems
There is still much that we do not know about this Miami-Dade situation, including how well the transition back to Microsoft Teams and Zoom will go and what exactly caused the problems in the first place. According to a report on NBC6 South Florida, however:
For now I will add that there appears to be an extraordinary amount of poor decision-making by the district office involved. I see the need for improved platform support beyond what was provided in the spring, but rushing through a massive centralization on a new platform concept on the scope of 270,000 students is strategically naive and risky. K12’s president admitted his company’s faults yesterday on CNBC when asked about impact on investors:
During the board meeting, there were also questions why the K12 project was run by “two subordinate staffers.”
Let’s hope that this is the worst EdTech platform story that we’ll hear this fall.
1 Technically, they integrated Zoom into Microsoft Teams to allow for video conferencing along with the other Teams communications capabilities.
2 By the way, excellent reporting by students in this post.
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