For two years running, Bloomberg’s State Innovation Index has hailed Massachusetts as the nation’s most innovative state economy. Looking at such metrics as R&D; concentration of science, technology, engineering, and math employment; and numbers of science degrees, it’s no wonder that the Commonwealth placed first.

But it’s not just postsecondary education that makes Massachusetts a leader in innovation. Its K-12 public schools also boast some of the most dynamic and thoughtful approaches to brick-and-mortar education, providing a model for the rest of the country.

Despite these successes, Massachusetts struggles to keep pace with innovative online educational offerings that have helped students thrive throughout the nation. The Commonwealth is home to digital learning experts Paul Peterson, Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and John Flores, yet it has been unable to establish a strong virtual learning ecosystem. 

Several years ago, Massachusetts passed virtual school legislation. Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, advised the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on regulations to accompany the new law. She recalls making three basic recommendations: don’t put any geographic restrictions on the schools, don’t impose an enrollment cap on them, and let the money follow the student. Unfortunately, the department largely ignored her advice.

I know why those recommendations were not followed. Massachusetts knows what good brick-and-mortar schools look like, and they look different than good online schools. Liberating education from schoolhouse walls takes boldness—the willingness to mingle with the gray areas of learning, to refocus on the student of 2017. It’s hard to take a chance on digital learning when what you’ve got is working.

When implemented well, digital learning helps students in much the same way as other pioneering educational models do. More and more families are seeking educational opportunities beyond their local school; they’re looking for a school of one, always with an eye toward what’s best for their child. 

For some families and students, it’s best to learn at a pace and time that works for them. Some students seek a head start on college, others need to revisit concepts for mastery. Digital education handles both of these students with ease, without holding one back academically or pushing the other ahead before foundational concepts can cement.

In fact, high-quality digital education can handle a whole lot more than just the accelerated student or remedial student. It can truly meet students where they are. 

In my 20 years in K-12 online education, I’ve seen the power front-row seat learning has on student achievement. I’ve watched as student athletes pursued Olympic dreams; seen students with severe illnesses – who otherwise would have had no access to education – excel; and observed entrepreneurial students run successful businesses as they learn online.

Online education can be done well. When it is, it expands horizons for students and states. When you have a strong partner with a good track record practicing evidence-based online education, the sphere of innovation grows at a pace that keeps up with the rest of the world. 

That’s what we’re educating students for now. Not to meet the needs of what students can glimpse from their spot by the window, but from what they can reach through their imagination, their computer, and their global community. Online education prepares a student for a responsive, adaptive future. Massachusetts families deserve educational opportunities that take students from where they are to where they need to be; not just to pass tests, but to be successful contributors to the world.

Julie Young is Deputy Vice President of Education Outreach and Student Services at Arizona State University (ASU) and CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School. She was the founding President and CEO of Florida Virtual School.