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]

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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