Cisco is proud to support CommonLit, which creates digital education resources in English and Spanish for students in grades K-12. CommonLit has seen a massive increase in demand for its programming due to the large number of students who are currently homeschooling. Read on to find out how CommonLit is working around the clock to meet increased demand and address the unique needs of students who are currently learning at home.  

This post comes from Rob Fleisher, CommonLit’s Chief Strategy Officer.

We invite you to learn more about nonprofit global impact partners of Cisco and the Cisco Foundation.

With over 70 million students in the U.S., from kindergarten to grad school, transitioning to remote learning this year, innovative solutions are essential to keep children from falling behind.

One solution is CommonLit.

CommonLit is a nonprofit with a free digital program offering over 2,000 English and Spanish reading and writing lessons that have been found to help students make dramatic academic gains. Over the past few years, CommonLit has grown to serve millions of students and teachers across more than 80,000 American and Latin American schools. Right now, these numbers are quickly and dramatically increasing as a result of the coronavirus.

As such, not a single district in America was fully prepared to rapidly shift to virtual instruction for all of their students when schools began closing in March. Unfortunately, a crisis like this will also always be more disruptive in low-income communities.

Students and families in low-income communities rely on schools for more than an education.  Schools also provide crucial meals and medical and mental health services. These services are needed more than ever in a pandemic. Additionally, students in wealthy communities are more likely to own their own digital devices and have access to pricey education technology programs and services that their district has already purchased, while lower income school districts must provide for a population with fewer at-home resources.

Our team knew that the sudden need for distance learning  would be highly disruptive for all districts, the students most likely to be harmed would be the students who were already the most vulnerable.

Thanks to a 2019 grant from the Cisco Foundation, students can use our Annotation Tool (seen above) to take notes directly on their digital reading assignments within CommonLit’s platform. Teachers can also provide personalized, direct feedback to students on their annotations, a feature that is incredibly valuable during distance learning.

Fortunately, since CommonLit’s founding in 2013, the organization has been obsessed with equity. When making organizational decisions about our curriculum or technology, we’re always guided by how we can do the most good for vulnerable students. That’s why CommonLit’s lessons:

  • are completely free,
  • are available both digitally and in print,
  • cover a broad range of literary genres, STEM, and social studies topics,
  • can be translated into 27 different languages,
  • include text-to-speech and digital annotation tools to support struggling readers, and
  • are mobile-friendly to support students who do not have access to broadband internet via a computer.

These reasons, among many others, are exactly why CommonLit is uniquely positioned to help all teachers and students with their remote learning.

Check out CommonLit’s Full Accessibility Guide here.

Our response to COVID-19

Over the past few weeks, traffic on CommonLit’s site has reached record highs. We have seen tremendous increases in parent sign-ups (10x over prior weeks), after-hours traffic (7x the normal amount), and unique visitors to our site per day (5x the normal amount). In the month of March, about 1,180,000 students and 44,000 educators created new accounts on CommonLit.

Our support team has responded to over 5,000 help desk inquiries since the beginning of March, which is an increase of over 600 percent since this time last year. We’ve added more help desk shifts, reallocated employee time, and are hiring temporary workers to meet this increased demand. To ensure that teachers new to our program are aware of all its functionality, we are hosting daily webinars to show how teachers can use CommonLit for their virtual distance learning. So far, we have trained nearly 3,300 teachers and have answered over 1,700 live webinar questions.

About 1,180,000 students created new accounts on CommonLit during the month of March.

In addition to our increased direct support to teachers, we have partnered with several states and districts who are looking to immediately deploy our resources, and we have rapidly developed and released new parent resources to support at-home learning. This COVID-19 crisis affects everyone at all levels, and CommonLit is doing our best to make sure we’re there for everyone, every step of the way.

CommonLit’s impact 

From The New York Times to Bill Gates’s personal blog, CommonLit is listed among the top educational resources for virtual learning. We’ve also received emails from teachers and administrators around the globe, ranging from first-time to veteran CommonLit users, who have depended on our program to support their students during school closures.

CommonLit offers over 2,000 English and Spanish reading and writing lessons that include digital supports for struggling readers and English Language Learners.

Our team has also been honored by the number of school districts that have relied upon CommonLit during this crisis because they know that our resources are both high-quality and accessible to all students. Raquel Darling-Greer, a curriculum and instruction manager in Memphis, Tenn. told us, “CommonLit’s team and resources are so important to us during this crisis. We have a large district, and our schools don’t have access to expensive education technology tools. Thousands of our students will be relying on CommonLit lessons to keep up with learning while we remain closed.”

While no one really knows exactly when the COVID-19 pandemic will fully abate, CommonLit is working tirelessly to ensure that we can continue to rapidly develop additional features and curriculum to support teachers and students everywhere.

Looking forward

The CommonLit team is reprioritizing new feature needs for remote learning education environments and content to meet the needs of schools around the country and world. With amazing supporters like The Cisco Foundation, we will continue to help teachers, students, parents, and all school and district administrators in any way we can, through this crisis and beyond.


Kyle Thornton

Portfolio Manager, Education

Cisco Foundation