Why CommonLit Will Always Be Free for Teachers and Students

CommonLit's CEO, Michelle, gives a presentation to employees.

We hear it all the time: “This product is great! But wait… how is it free?”

We’ve had many teachers ask “What’s the catch? Surely this is a limited trial?”

I’m here to set the story straight. CommonLit is, and will always be, 100% free for teachers and students. Period. This is core to our nonprofit mission.

Before I jump into how we keep this resource free, it’s important to first understand why.

Students discuss CommonLit lesson around table.
Students at the District of Columbia International School in Washington, D.C.

Why I Started CommonLit

Any educator who works in a low-income school knows how difficult it can be to teach students with old, missing, or outdated resources. I know this struggle all too well because I experienced it firsthand.

A basement classroom in disrepair with bare walls.
Michelle’s first classroom in the Mississippi Delta

I was shocked when I walked into my first classroom in the Mississippi Delta. There were practically no books, the room was in disrepair, and I did not have enough chairs for all of my students.

For the next few years, I spent most of my nights and weekends scraping together the reading resources my students needed to succeed. When I searched online, I was so frustrated by the paywalls that prevented me from getting my hands on quality curriculum — the foundation of any basic education.

We are not doing enough. The disparity is real. Students in low-income schools are generally the last to obtain access to cutting-edge technology and high-quality instructional tools. While I was in Mississippi, I wished that there was an organization focused on making sure that teachers and students in low-income schools were first. CommonLit is the high-quality, free resource that I wish I had.

Having taught in a high-poverty school, I deeply understand how important it is that this resource remains 100% free. Our team is composed of former teachers with a combined 76 years of experience, all of whom have experienced the need for a research-based, highly effective product. If we charged teachers for CommonLit, we would be doing a grave injustice to students because many teachers, especially those in high-poverty areas, simply can’t afford to pay for more tools.

CommonLit is, and will always be, 100% free for teachers and students. Period.

More broadly, if we are going to deliver on the promise of a high-quality, free education in America, we need an edtech sector that helps nonprofit educational resources thrive. By making the best instructional tools free, we are raising the bar for what kind of education kids get in the schools that have been left behind.

At CommonLit, we work hard for teachers because we want to live in a world where every child has the tools they need to learn to read and write at a high level.

Why Nonprofit?

In 2013, I became the founder of CommonLit. I chose to incorporate CommonLit as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, even though nonprofits in the edtech space are pretty rare. Khan Academy and Wikipedia are some of the best known examples, and if you’ve ever used either of these tools, you understand that it is hard to imagine a world without them.

So what’s the difference between nonprofits and for-profits? First, nonprofits don’t have investors like for-profit companies do; they only have donors. You can’t own an equity stake in a nonprofit. In a nonprofit structure, the beneficiaries of the service are the stakeholders. This structure is unique for an edtech company, but it allows us to focus our resources on research and development to make the best product for our users, rather than focusing on sales, marketing, and returns. In short, the nonprofit structure allows CommonLit to prioritize doing good over making a profit.

To learn more about the successes we’ve had as a non-profit, read my post “The Hidden Power of a Non-Profit Business Model.”

How Is CommonLit Free?

The answer to that question has two parts. For the majority of our funds, we rely on foundations, corporations, and individuals who believe in our mission, team, and vision. We have received generous support and in-kind product donations from organizations like:

We also work with school districts to provide on-demand Professional Development, benchmark assessments, school-wide data reports, and a seamless onboarding experience. To learn more about these services, check out CommonLit School Essentials.

All profits from these school partnerships go towards the maintenance and growth of the always free resource that you know and love.

If we all work together, we can make a better future for millions of children.