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Miami-Dade schools cut ties with flawed online learning platform

Angry parents and teachers vent frustrations about K12 program’s failures

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The Miami-Dade County School Board voted unanimously early Thursday morning to stop using its current online learning platform, My School Online, following two weeks of issues at the start of the new school year.

The board also changed the rules that allowed the superintendent to make the kind of $15 million no-bid contract with the for-profit educational company K12 without the board’s sign-off.

“This won’t happen again. ... The board policy will not allow that anymore,” said Dr. Steve Gallon, the board’s vice chair who confirmed the decision to Local 10 News, saying the school district will stop using the platform immediately.

“I’m proud of the unanimous support of my colleagues of both agenda items I proffered, which not only immediately ended the vexing, almost nightmarish use of the K12 platform by teachers, parents, and students, but also made a significant policy amendment which would preclude such a no-bid purchase without School Board approval in the future,” Gallon said. "This decision would immediately enable teachers to utilize district approved platforms for online learning that they are familiar with, trained on, and that parents are accustomed to that will ensure an improved, more enhanced teaching and learning experience during these already challenging times.”

Students and teachers will now use other platforms, like Microsoft Teams. School officials said there is no financial consequence to the change because the contract with My School Online was never fully executed.

“It’s an opportunity for us to bring closure, bring (the) tremendous, critically important closure to an issue that has vexed our schools and our classrooms,” Gallon said.

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in an afternoon news conference that “[K12] failed this school system. They did not perform. But, obviously, as superintendent, it is my responsibility.”

Carvalho also released a lengthy statement Thursday on Facebook, saying the district regretted that the start of the school year “did not begin as expected.”

“We had high hopes for the implementation of the K12 distance learning platform, including a package of curriculum, assessment tools, teacher training, and data management,” he wrote. “This platform was selected to allow students and teachers to seamlessly pivot between online and schoolhouse learning models without an interruption in the continuity of instruction. We also selected K12, a state-approved virtual instruction provider, over Florida Virtual School because it provided a comprehensive K-12 solution, an easy to use interface, and it had the flexibility to allow teachers to customize the online curriculum in core subjects and electives – a feature not available with Florida Virtual.”

Members of the School Board received an earful Wednesday about the K12 failure and the chaos that has been the first two weeks of school before voting the platform out just before 2 a.m. Nearly 400 parents and teachers submitted comments.

Some parents were livid and allowed their frustrations to be heard.

At the first full board meeting since Miami-Dade’s virtual learning meltdown and subsequent finger-pointing, there are lots of decisions to be made.

But before they could get down to business, a large chunk of the meeting was all public venting and unloading.

Parents and teachers let it fly at the virtual meeting, using words like “disaster” and even “injustice” to describe a roster of issues with the $15 million no-bid platform K12 that proved inaccessible, untenable and unusable district-wide for students from kindergarten to 12th grade countywide, leaving teachers to scramble for a way to provide effective virtual learning in this time of COVID-19.

Those parents and teachers want answers, and some want heads to roll.

“Show cause why should the board members not be put on unpaid administrative leave along with the superintendent,” said parents Mayra Joli. “Show cause why the complete board should not be dismantled for malfeasance.”

Four of the nine board members added emergency items to the agenda this week, called “good cause” items, from ditching the K12 platform to demanding accountability.

Teachers were initially told to expect decisions about the platform Friday, meaning they would have had an unpaid work weekend.

“I really wish you could make a decision by Wednesday so we can have lesson plans created for students for Monday,” said teacher Alicia Thompson.

UTD President Karla Hernandez-Mats released a statement Thursday, praising teachers for their resilience and for speaking out at Wednesday’s meeting.

We are very pleased that the school board made the decision to end the use of the K12 platform for our teachers and students,” the statement read. "Despite efforts made by all, this program was not up to par with the curriculum, content or quality of instruction that our educators are accustomed to providing.

“There were some important lessons learned in this process. The first being that decisions about the classroom should never be made without the input of our educators as they are the experts and the people who know best what their students need. We expect that moving forward, the district will make a concerted effort to include us in any decision regarding curriculum for our classrooms. Second is that our teachers, despite the incredible challenges they faced over the past three weeks, have proven to be a dedicated, committed, resourceful and resilient workforce that persevered as a unit to ensure that teaching and learning would occur during these trying times. Our M-DCPS educators truly are the best in the nation, and as a community, we should be proud of their activism and their collective efforts last night to improve the academic success of their students.”

K12 released a statement through a spokesperson that read in part:

“Six weeks before school began, K12 began a customization of our platform to build something specific to Superintendent Carvalho’s vision for Miami-Dade. The first few days and weeks of school were deeply disappointing for all of us. We offered to make a multi-million dollar investment in this innovative model to deliver on the vision that Superintendent Carvalho and K12 CEO Nate Davis shared with K12 assuming the financial risk, and with no expectation of immediate financial gain or payment. Only after satisfactory proof of both the concept and implementation of the updated K-5 learning system, would we be willing to discuss with the district terms of possible remuneration or payment. The school board chose not to go that direction and we respect that decision.”

The school board questions why the K12 project was handled by two subordinate staffers and why for-profit K12 doesn’t want to recoup costs, or a million-dollar donation to the foundation run by the superintendent.

The district emailed more than three pages of actions planned, most to investigate IT and cybersecurity issues that it turns out were documented last May by an auditor.

“It has been confidential but ... the board has led on this being an issue that needs to be addressed as far back as two years ago,” Gallon said.


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