This past week I had the privilege of addressing a group of parents at the National Coalition for Public School Options Family Reunion in Washington, D.C. The parents there are dedicated to ensuring their children have public school options that match their children’s distinct needs. For the mother who told me about her child who has an immune disorder that renders a typical school environment a non-starter or the parents with children who have various learning difficulties or are more advanced, online learning has become a must-have. These parents are, along with the students, the real experts on online and digital learning.

It’s always been a hope of many in the education reform community that parents would rise up and demand choice, which would be a big catalyst for transformation in the inner cities and elsewhere. But if those reformers are being honest, they’d have to agree that it hasn’t really played out that way despite the hype of Waiting for Superman and other flashpoints.

In some cases parents have even argued against choice—just look at Millburn, New Jersey in the news recently. Even as this appears to be an anomaly against today’s political landscape, there hasn’t been a seismic shift against the status quo. And regardless of outcome, there is often simply a lot of protracted fighting when parents do demand options, as the battles over the Parent Trigger law in California show–that in some cases just makes change slow at best.

As I was reminded though at the event where I spoke, the parental support for digital learning is fundamentally different.

First and foremost, digital learning is for everyone, everywhere. It’s not something designed for “those children” or one specific slice of the population. It’s not something that a group of parents support in theory but for whom in practicality it doesn’t matter. It’s not just for charters or districts. And even more fundamentally, it’s not just for private schools or for public schools. It cuts across all of these categories.

In technology terms, it’s akin to the “killer app”–that core thing that everyone has to have.

And as such, that makes it more potent because all families will ultimately be invested in having it.

Even as digital learning has been critical to the early successes of KIPP Empower’s blended-learning school in Los Angeles, Calif.,–where 92 percent of its students are on the free-and-reduced program—it’s also been hugely popular and successful in the relatively well off Los Altos School District in California, where schools there have implemented the Khan Academy and seen its students soar. Some of the 5th graders in the district have successfully attacked the daunting concepts of trigonometry—and even calculus—with remarkable success.

As Salman Khan noted to me, when parents in neighboring suburban districts realize their children are falling behind the Los Altos students if their children don’t have access to a digital learning system that personalizes education for their children, you don’t think they’ll be knocking down doors and demanding it, too?

And that’s what makes it different. A strong majority of already-active parents over time will demand a digital learning-powered system that disrupts the classroom as we’ve known it.

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Stay tuned. I’ll be writing soon about how digital learning is a game changer for the teachers, too, who are coming to realize that it is fundamentally a liberating thing for their lives, as it allows them to focus their craft on individuals, project-based learning, and other such exciting endeavors.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.