The Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program is a little-known program being run by the U.S. Department of Education, with a 26 million dollar budget, which is small change at the federal level. Its goals are to encourage the invention of programs for improving literacy levels in high-risk schools. Focus is divided between encouraging early reading skills in the young and motivating reading interest in older students, and it encourages this with competitive grants for innovators.
A recent recipient, CommonLit, bears a good look. CommonLit is a three-year-old educational technology (edtech) nonprofit with aims to use software and apps to encourage students to read more and read more efficiently. Students with accounts can track their reading and receive assignments that are tailor-made to their current reading level. Teachers and parents can track their progress and get tips about what needs reinforcing.
CommonLit includes its own library, which is full of donated and open-source content for all reading levels. Everything from fiction to current news. Users or educators can sort content by grade, genre, theme, or lexicon, which is a particularly useful metric. Perhaps unique among edtech softwares, they also allow users to print any material they need, which makes it more accessible to the millions of students without Internet at home.
What CommonLit hopes to do with the nearly $4 million grant they received from the DOE through the IALP is to make their content and service available completely free to any school, family, or student who needs it.
“We don’t want to put the best parts of our product behind a paywall,” said founder Michelle Brown, gently denouncing ‘freemium’ access platforms, which provide only a percentage of their features for free to end users.
As of this September, CommonLit reports more than 22,000 teachers signed up in more than 12,000 schools. The nonprofit is ready to expand, and the DOE grant means that they can bring more content to more who need it.