Home > Uncategorized > Miami Dade Superintendent Issues $15,000,000 No-Bid Contract to For Profit Software Company: What Could Go Wrong?

Miami Dade Superintendent Issues $15,000,000 No-Bid Contract to For Profit Software Company: What Could Go Wrong?

September 28, 2020

Wired writer Sandra Upson’s recent article on the $15,000,000 no-bid contract offered to the profiteers at K-12 describes everything that could go wrong when ad hoc technology decisions are made under intense time frames… and it’s quite a list!

First, K-12 was unable to scale up to meet the needs of the 4th largest school district in the nation… unsurprising since it had only operated on a small scale before it put in for the contract.

Second, K-12’s training program was horrible:

The teachers received demo logins to try out the platform, but they didn’t work, and even the trainers struggled to access it, West says. From 8 am until 3:30 pm each day, teachers took notes without once trying the software themselves. “The training was make-believe, it was so, so complex,” says one teacher. “Even our techie teachers were lost.”

Third, it was slow to upload AND incompatible with common hardware:

Once the school year began in earnest, technical challenges persisted. Some students struggled to log in. Uploads could be excruciatingly slow. A particular sore point was the platform’s unreliable built-in video conferencing tool, called NewRow. It had issues with sound and screen-sharing. After about 15 minutes, the video quality started to degrade. It didn’t work on iPads or iPhones.

Fourth, the canned K-12 curriculum was horrible:

When some Miami-Dade teachers examined K12’s materials, they were horrified by what they found. One teacher came across a quiz for second graders with one question: “Did you enjoy this course?” Clicking “yes” allowed the student to ace the test. Several classes relied on K12’s paper workbooks, which the students didn’t receive. “One thing our educators complained about was, the rigor was not there. It was a very watered-down curriculum,” Hernandez-Mats says.

Finally, the K-12 platform was painfully easy to compromise… leading to a teenage prankster bringing the schools to its knees:

ON THE MORNING of August 31, the first day of school, the 345,000 students in Miami-Dade County’s public schools fired up their computers expecting to see the faces of their teachers and classmates. Instead a scruffy little dog in banana-print pajamas appeared on their screens, alongside an error message. “Oh bananas!” read one message from the district’s online learning platform. “Too many people are online right now.”

A rudimentary cyberattack had crippled the servers of the nation’s fourth-largest school district, preventing its 392 schools from starting the year online. But even once the district had quelled the distributed denial-of-service attackand a local teen had been arrested for the crime, “Banana Dog” didn’t go away. If anything, the security breach merely obscured for a few days the crippling weaknesses in the district’s plan to move every aspect of its schooling—including a revamped curriculum—onto a platform that had only ever supported half as many students (and never all at once).

The entire escapade brought to mind a Ted Sizer aphorism I often used in presentations about change.

How do you change schools? Slowly, Carefully, and All At Once

The quick fixes for the pandemic, like the one tried in Miami-Dade drove this home… and I hope that those who want to apply the quick fixes used in the private sector are thinking twice about fast change involving technology.

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