The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

What went wrong

By Theo Miller
News Editor

K12’s online platform experienced a multitude of failures over the 2 weeks for which it was mandatory for students. Depsite all of this, those in charge continued to insist everything was fine. Graphic by Theo Miller

At this point, it is common knowledge that the district’s initial approach to online schooling was unsuccessful to say the least. After attempting for two weeks to use the K12 Online Learning platform as the hub for all school related activities, supplemented by Microsoft Teams, the school board concluded a 3 a.m. meeting by deciding to sever all business ties with K12, opting for an approach closer to the one used last March. Students have been learning on Zoom, which the district pays for, and teachers are left responsible for adapting their curriculum to a new platform for the third time in 6 months.

As of this writing, that decision was almost a month ago. Now that the smoke has cleared, to some extent, let’s revisit the great shakespearean tragedy that was K12 in Miami Dade.

This article will refrain from speculation, especially with regards to the cyberattacks reported.

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The great debacle began a week before the scheduled first day of school on August 31st. Teachers, in addition to their preparations for back-to-school were required to complete 100 hours of training on the K12 platform. According to teachers at MAST, students were not populated into their classes until August 30th.

The K12 platform, while running independently from the server, used the student portal sign-on system for authentication, as does Microsoft Office 365, the access point for Microsoft Teams. Upon 250,000 students signing in at the same time at 8:30 a.m. on August 31st, traffic through the district server ground to a halt. This is what is known as a ‘denial of service’ outage, which may be the result of abnormally high traffic for what the server is equipped to handle, or it may be the result of a malicious attack aimed at preventing other users from accessing a site.

According to the district, independent of the high volume of traffic, there was an internet outage at the county datacenter. The district issued a public statement that blamed Comcast for the outage and disavowed that there was any other problem. The district also issued a ConnectED text to parents that said hundreds of thousands of students successfully used the K12 platform all day, and that if there were any issues today, they have been resolved.

Throughout the rest of the week, though, the connectivity problems persisted, and the district changed their story almost daily. The scapegoats ranged from traffic on K12’s servers to malicious cyberattacks to a literal power outage at the datacenter. After a whole week of disaster after disaster, teachers were jumping ship to Zoom and other platforms that, while outside of the district’s control, were approved and just worked. 

Then came the big reveal. A 16-year-old in South Miami was arrested on charges of orchestrating 8 of the reported 24 cyberattacks using easily downloadable software. The attack used is known as a DDOS, or Distributed Denial of Service attack, which is similar to the denial of service outage previously mentioned. A DDOS attack uses a network of bots and algorithms to overload the server of a particular website, causing it to shut down or restrict the flow of traffic. Even though the arrest was treated as the closing piece in the start-of-school fiasco, for experts it raised even more questions. 

The student arrested was not an expert. He used an easily downloadable piece of software and did not think to mask his IP Address (a unique identifier on the internet, which is how he was tracked down for the arrest). This is also the sort of basic cyberattack that a hardened and crucial piece of corporate infrastructure should be able to easily withstand. Additionally, the remaining 16 cyberattacks have either not been accounted for or, if they have, they have not been publicly disclosed as such. 

Then there is the matter of K12 itself. K12, incorporated, is a for-profit publicly traded company that operates both private online schools and an online schooling platform that it licenses out to school districts across the country. The district was smart in only having a verbal understanding of agreement, not signing the $15 million contract that was drawn up, but that means that K12 couldn’t meet the contractual obligations it set up for itself. Others are raising that the politics of the whole affair feel slightly incestuous. Betsy DeVoss, the secretary of education, and her husband are shareholders in K12. That got passed down to Republican governor Ron DeSantis, who’s office officially endorsed K12 as the preferred platform for online schooling, which MDCPS was prepared to grant a $15 million no-bid contract to.

Students continue to learn online, even after returning to physical school. Photo by Theo Miller

In light of all of this, K12 CEO Nate Davis (current salary $706,731, plus an additional $9 million in compensation and stock) went on The Sunshine Economy, an NPR-produced podcast and radio show about South Florida and economics. His answers were, to say the least, illuminating. In order to prevent fragmentation, the district asked that K12 include systems for live teaching in a version of the program created for Miami-Dade. K12 agreed to this. At the time, they had 6 weeks until the first day of school. The task list included licensing a video-conferencing platform that could be integrated into the existing K12 platform, migrating the entire district catalog of students, teachers, and courses. Davis was careful to point out that this task ordinarily would be done in about six months, and that K12 devoted all available resources to the task. 

Then there is the issue of the $1.57 million charitable donation made by K12 to a non-profit run by the Superintendent for teacher funding. This was the only transfer of funds that actually happened during the ordeal. Davis painted it as a charitable way to reward teachers for the long hours and glitches they encountered with learning and setting up their class around the K12 system. That money was supposed to be distributed to teachers in the form of a $100 gift card. It is also important to note that this donation is currently under investigation by the county’s Office of the Inspector General, and whether it was supposed to act as a bribe. The donation was deposited the day before the school board vote on whether or not to axe K12. That $100 was also only available to teachers who used K12 to schedule their classes before August 31, meaning that it could be interpreted as an unfair incentive to use K12. The Superintendent denies knowledge of that particular clause with regards to distribution and availability of the money to teachers.

This is all the information publicly available. We might never get the full story. This might not even be the end of K12 in Miami. Whether your view the debacle as honest partners not able to make tight deadlines or shady under-the-table dealings that backfired, this is certain to go down in school board history as one of the greatest disasters in it’s history.

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