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Next goal is to provide free service to 7,500 schools nationwide

LeVar Burton (of Star TrekRoots, and Reading Rainbow fame) has succeeded in his goal to revive the former PBS edutainment program Reading Rainbow in internet content form -- and then some.  In just a little over two days, the project has raised over $2.8M USD, well over its goal of $1M USD.

I. Reading Rainbow Flies High With $2.8M USD

The tremendous success came thanks in part to LeVar Burton's deep commitment to offering his own time, committing to many dinners, school assemblies, thank you tweets, and other humble gestures that your average celebrity might consider "beneath them".  What was remarkable seeing various outlets covering the effort was that virtually anyone who had met Mr. Burton recalled how friendly and focused on his causes he was.

Mr. Burton is investing his own time -- and a lot of it -- in order to get this project off the ground.

One of the best stories came from the Hacker News, where Zmitri writes:

I once met LeVar at a bar at a restaurant. As a fan of Star Trek, I wanted to go up to him, but figured he must get bothered by a lot of intense trekkies so I broke the ice with a conversation about Reading Rainbow.He talked about Reading Rainbow with me for a good 15 minutes straight. He was unbelievably proud and passionate about the work he did on that show, and so I'm very pleased to see this video today.

Proof" rel="nofollow

You can see this in his reaction to the incredible generosity of his fans, who enabled him to share Reading Rainbow content for free with children across the country.

LeVar Burton is estimated to have anywhere from $4M USD to $14M USD in investments.  From his work in Roots and Star Trek, it's apparent that the man is not lacking for talent.  And yet he's devoted much of his career not to cashing in with films and vanity product brands, but to educating children.

And that is good to see.

II. Fact Check: Illiteracy Rate in America

There was some cynicism in the comments in the last post regarding the fact that some were exploiting the public, with what they felt was a fake statistic.  In the original post Mr. Burton wrote:

Right now, 1 out of every 4 children in America will grow up illiterate.

I understand why some took umbrage to that comment.  From a dictionary standpoint to be illiterate is defined as:

1:  having little or no education; especially :  unable to read or write <an illiterate population>
2 a :  showing or marked by a lack of familiarity with language and literature <an illiterate magazine>
b :  violating approved patterns of speaking or writing

The U.S. government in the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) "World Factbook" self-reports the nation to have a 99 percent literacy rate for those 15 and over.  However, it's important to remember that definition is based on the loosest of definitions -- even those who can barely read and write are still considered "literate" by the goverment.

But those numbers seem pretty speculous, given that the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy concluded in a 2013 study that 32 million adult Americans could not read (i.e. were illiterate).

Other studies have produced similar, if a little different results.  Roughly a decade ago in 2003, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that of 227 million adult Americans:
  • 11 million adults
    • Two groups:
      • 7 million who could not answer simple test questions
      • 4 million who could not take the test because of language barriers
So this study indicated an illiteracy rate of nearly 5 percent, or 1 in 20 adult Americans.  Further the study graded Americans who could give verbal answers and read the test a literacy grade in three key topics.  

Kinds of literacy
It found that more than 45 million Americans (22+ percent) were "below basic" at technical reading and problem solving (the quantitative portion).  In other words nearly 1 in 4 American adults was almost illiterate at quantitative reading.  In terms of prose or document reading a little less than 1 in 6 Americans was nearly illiterate.
Literacy grades
So peer-reviewed expert research suggests that 1 in 20 Americans are illiterate, but then a little less than 1 in 4 is almost illiterate (or "barely literate", if you prefer the glass half full) in at least one kind of reading.

For those look on Mr. Burton, consider the Wikipedia page on illiteracy in the U.S. which states:

Rates of literacy in the United States depend on which of the various definitions of literacy is used. Governments may label individuals as literate those who can read a couple of thousand simple words they learned by sight in the first four grades in school. Other sources may term such individuals functionally illiterate if they are unable to use basic sources of written information like warning labels and driving directions...

The literacy rates are not completely measurable.

Right now, 1 out of every 4 children in America will grow up illiterate. Wrong!
Right now, roughly 1 out of every 4 children in America will grow up illiterate or almost illiterate.  Correct!

In other words, while Mr. Burton's minor exagerration or error is certainly worth noting, crowing over it, or cheering its inaccuracy isn't exactly a good idea.

III. Stretch Goals -- Help 5x More Kids

Moving on, Mr. Burton has some big plans for stretch goals.  He's already announced plans to expand his effort for free Reading Rainbow content and software from 1,500 schools across the country, to 7,500.

Reading Rainbow
There's roughly 67,000 U.S. public elementary schools, so that'd be a little over 1 in 10 schools receiving the program -- an impressive feat.

Reading Rainbow

He also plans to support multiple platforms, including Android smartphones/tablets, video game consoles, and set-top boxes.

Reading Rainbow

Mr. Burton and his team writes:


If we reach our stretch goal of $5 million with time to spare, we'll announce an even more ambitious stretch goal, and even more plans for what we can accomplish. But no matter what we raise, every single dollar will be focused on the exact same mission: Bringing Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere.

We've still got big ideas for additional stretch goals -- among them, plans to bring Reading Rainbow to PUBLIC LIBRARIES, and to expand the virtual library to introduce FOREIGN LANGUAGE BOOKS.

Delivering content and services on these kinds of scales isn't cheap -- just look at the federal education effort.  So it is truly terrific to see so many people funding this deserving program to boost literacy rates.

Sources: Reading Rainbow [Thank You!!], [Stretch Goals]

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Great Celebrity Role Model
By Rike on 5/30/2014 9:21:18 PM , Rating: 5
Mr. Burton should be one of the case studies in what you should do when you become a celebrity.

"See class, this is what you should do with your fame."

Sure, no one is perfect, but this campaign is good stuff.

RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By blueaurora on 5/30/2014 10:32:49 PM , Rating: 5
One of the few that actually deserves fame. I'm glad your post was first. Perfect sentiment.

On topic issue: you can throw money at education forever but until you can address the cultural shift at home to address deficiencies no solution will ever do an adequate job. I live in Louisiana and thank God for Mississippi we aren't dead last but we've seen programs come and go but none could ever tackle the cultural irresponsibility that exists.

PS. I loved reading rainbow.

RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By cditty on 5/30/2014 11:03:49 PM , Rating: 2
I'm your Louisiana relative and we should always be thankful for MS. I have a child in the school system (a good school). I do so much extra with her to keep her sharp. Our initiatives are pointless at times.

RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By room200 on 5/31/14, Rating: 0
RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By tayb on 5/31/2014 10:41:26 AM , Rating: 5
His point was not that money is wasted in education but that no amount of money can fix parental apathy. If parents aren't encouraging education at home, reading to their kids, and making sure they are studying there is nothing that teachers or schools can do.

My sister is a school teacher and just recently she emailed a parent because her daughter was sleeping during book reading time. The parent emails back and says the child wasn't sleeping but just resting her eyes. The freaking parent!!! You can't fix that with money.

RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By bah12 on 6/3/2014 9:25:02 AM , Rating: 2
I call BS. Of course enough money could fix "parental apathy" some of the uber educated elite probably had some of the most apathetic parents. What they do have is a staff of very well trained nanny's/butlers and other caretakers to raise them. Plus they went to the best private schools. The requirements to be a nanny for the super rich dwarf the resume of even some of the best teachers.

So if you fund education enough to get that teacher/student ratio down, and pay teachers enough. Money could actually overcome bad parents. Just the idea that teaching has been relegated to a "last resort" job is absurd. Teaching should be one of the hardest jobs to get, and should be the most desirable from a pay perspective. Instead anyone with a high school degree, and a basic certificate can start teaching in my state, and the pay is crap. Fix that and you can overcome bad parenting. Sure the kid with the attentive parents will have better odds, but one without can still be a success if he has skilled teachers.

On an average school day at best I'll have 3 hours of time with my kids. Teachers have them for double that. Get the average teacher the pay and prestige level of a billionaire nanny, make it a lucrative career, and you'd be surprised at the result.

RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By The Von Matrices on 5/31/2014 4:05:59 PM , Rating: 2
I somewhat agree with you, but the problem is not funding. The US already spends more per student than most industrialized nations. The problem is that the money is not directed towards instruction.

The tax base wants to see tangible use of their school taxes, so money goes towards physical items like buildings and iPads. These expenditures are of minimal educational value, but since the tax base wants to see them purchased, that's where the money goes.

I agree that it's much better to spend the money on increasing teacher salaries (encouraging more qualified people to become teachers) and on educational materials like books. However, as long as the people who vote for school boards think they know more than the educators, new buildings and illiterate students is all that they will get.

RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By ritualm on 5/31/2014 7:34:49 PM , Rating: 3
iPads can be wonderful teaching material, however they also require educators to realize they're dealing with an entirely new medium, and insisting on their established methods of teaching might not necessarily work. Same with Chromebooks, let alone full-fledged PCs.

In some districts, school funding is dependent on average test scores. That inevitably leads to systemic cheating to secure money, then wasting it on something frivolous. Some other districts depend on taxes.

In any case, if the economic conditions in your area are unfavorable, you're screwed, and no amount of money infusion will prop up the crumbling public school system.

By inperfectdarkness on 6/2/2014 4:03:56 AM , Rating: 3
I don't inherently have a problem with ebook readers or tablets being used for students. The question is whether these devices have a LIFETIME service span that will outlast the hard-bound texts traditionally used. Traditional textbooks for a secondary school usually carry a hefty price tag--and most are not used for more than 4-5 years. If e-book prices for these same texts are even half the price of the hard-bound ones--using e-readers/tablets will generate a cost savings for the school (provided we're not talking about $700 iPads).

I'm not saying that ALL of the schools are buying iPads for "showy" purposes (though I suspect many are). What I am saying is that 1 student using 1 e-reader/tablet for the required texts from 7 different classes can make quite a bit of fiscal sense.

This is the same reason why the airline industry is transitioning to tablet-based publications, because the annual cost of digital copies is 1/3rd of that of printed paper copies.

RE: Great Celebrity Role Model
By mike8675309 on 6/2/2014 10:03:58 AM , Rating: 2
The problem is that the money is not directed towards instruction.

The problem is more is so much more complicated than that. The money can't just be put towards instruction, it needs to be put towards effective instruction.

Right now the U.S. education systems are arguing about the measurements (tests) as well as spending a lot of money on developing measurements(common core). Yet finding the perfect way to test and show that Johnny can't read does nothing to help Johnny read.

By MozeeToby on 6/2/2014 10:44:15 AM , Rating: 2
Yet finding the perfect way to test and show that Johnny can't read does nothing to help Johnny read.
What? Yes it does, it absolutely does. That's like saying finding the perfect way to detect computer viruses would do nothing to clean up computer viruses. Knowing when you have a problem, and where, and how severe lets you start looking for causes and solutions. Being able to identify the fact that Johnny can't read is both non-trivial (when talking about national numbers) and hugely important to improving education.

I'm not saying current efforts are what's right. But I will say this: reform is like a science experiment. You have some ideas what will produce the results you want to see but you're not really sure. So you try them and see what the results are. Standardized tests are a way to measure those results, they are not a perfect way but they're probably the only way that can be applied consistently across the country. Imagine trying to do science without a way to measure the results. Do you think we'd have Boyle's law if no one had ever invented the thermometer?

By YearOfTheDingo on 5/31/2014 6:32:50 AM , Rating: 2
To state the obvious: Today's adults have grown up already. They're from demographic cohorts very different from youths of today. According to the Census Bureau, minority births now outnumber non-Hispanic white births. Hispanics currently accounts for 14% of the adult population. By mid-century, the percentage is projected to reach 29%. We know that literacy is significantly lower in Hispanic households. The Census Bureau tell us, for instance, that while 36% of children 3 to 5 years old from non-Hispanic households recognize all letters of the alphabet, only 15% from Hispanic households can do the same.

I don't know how Burton came up with the 1 in 4 figure. To refute it using the current adult literacy rate is flat out wrong.

By room200 on 5/31/2014 8:47:57 AM , Rating: 2

By amanojaku on 5/31/2014 1:33:20 PM , Rating: 2
The OP rambled, but I think his point was that literacy rates are different for different demographics, so it will be impossible to predict future literacy rates since the demographics are changing. While true, humans are constantly making predictions based on past results, e.g. the weather, the economy, credit scores, academic results, etc... Last I checked, we still can't predict the future, so all we really can do is guess based on the past, which says the literacy rate is 3 in 4. And if the OP is to be believed, the literacy rate will DROP thanks to a growing Hispanic population. I ain't gonna touch that one...

That being said, the source of the 1/4 figure seems to come from the NALS (I wrote to RR about this, hope to hear back soon). I said as much in the first RR article and got flack for it, so it's nice to know someone else (Jason) did the research and came to the same conclusion:

By PaFromFL on 6/2/2014 8:54:00 AM , Rating: 2
"very different from youths of today. According to the Census Bureau, minority births now outnumber non-Hispanic white births. Hispanics currently accounts for 14% of the adult population. By mid-century, the percentage is projected to reach 29%. We know that literacy is significantly lower in Hispanic households."

I was shocked to see these statistics, not because of the actual statistics, but because they border on saying something negative about a "minority" group. In the USA, it is defacto illegal to use phrases such as "youths", or to mention uncomfortable differences between demographics. You can safely make statements such as "East Asians are bad at math", but God help you if your statement contains a grain of truth.

This is funding for a "for profit" business
By cladari on 6/1/2014 4:15:01 AM , Rating: 2
This is for a for profit web app that may be free to children but is far from free to schools. The first part of this will be out of reach of children without a computer at home.

While this may be a worthy project it is essentially funding for a business, not the public television show we all remember.

By Keeir on 6/1/2014 4:17:21 PM , Rating: 3
Reading comprehension does appear to be a skill that is disappearing.

A significant portion of the money donated via Kickstarter will be spent providing free access to a certain number of classrooms.

True, it would be great for authors, publishers, developers, programers, hosting, etc to all donate thier time and physical assests. But realistically, that doesn't produce quality products on a schedule. Having looked through the RRKidz offerings in relation to Reading Rainbow, whether its "for profit" or not will depending a great deal on how people use the services. A kid that wants to read, will be able to consume a large amount of books for very good price (compared to bookstores) and relatively good convience (compared to libraries). In this situation, I'd term the product as "not for profit" if its providing a good/service significantly below the market rate. Initially this product appears to comform to this description.

Doing a bit of math, it appears to me that RRKidz thinks access is worth around 10-20 dollars a seat per year... Even if the software is used 2 hours a week for one year, it could end up "costing" the school as little as 25 cents per hour. This may or may not be below market rate. It would depend on the number of titles and the software enhancements.

The first part of this will be out of reach of children without a computer at home.

True. Children that don't have internet enabled devices are probably most at risk. (A correlation between poverty and literacy rates is clearly established by a number of studies) I think that's why the proposal is to do both classrooms and devices. For the ~80-90% of children that have access to the internet, Reading Rainbow will be available as a subscription service to the device of thier choice. Hopefully by focusing on lower income school districts and providing free Reading Rainbow, a good portion of these kids will fall into the 10-20% that do not have easy internet access (or the ~20 dollars year for "unlimited" books).

Finally some good news
By EricMartello on 5/31/2014 4:02:40 AM , Rating: 3
I always liked the show reading rainbow when I was a kid, it really did make books enjoyable. I remember going to the library to find the books they mentioned on the show, as well as other books, and a lot of them were pretty good. I'm glad to see that Levar can bring it back for a new generation of children.

"Foreign Language Books"
By wordsworm on 5/31/14, Rating: 0
"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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