Why You Should Be Mad About LeVar Burton’s ‘Reading Rainbow’ Kickstarter Project

America’s classrooms shouldn’t need this kind of help.

Take a look — it's in a book.
National Journal
May 29, 2014, 1 a.m.

Any­one who grew up in the ‘90s will re­cog­nize LeVar Bur­ton. If you’re a Gen Xer, he may be more re­cog­niz­able to you as Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion. But if you’re a mil­len­ni­al, he will al­ways be the sooth­ingly voiced host of Read­ing Rain­bow, which ran on PBS from 1983 to 2006.

Now, Bur­ton is pick­ing up the torch for lit­er­acy once again. Us­ing the crowd­fund­ing site Kick­starter, Bur­ton wants to bring read­ing tools to par­ents, teach­ers, and chil­dren around the coun­try — for free. The Read­ing Rain­bow pro­gram would al­low stu­dents to prac­tice their read­ing skills at home or in the classroom, and comes equipped with a lib­rary of free e-books and “di­git­al field trips.”

Hav­ing an eas­ily ac­cess­ible data­base of open soft­ware seems like a com­mon­sense idea, and one many people can clearly get be­hind — Read­ing Rain­bow sur­passed its $1 mil­lion fun­drais­ing goal in just one day.

If fun­ded, it would be a wel­come tool for Amer­ic­an stu­dents who struggle with read­ing com­pre­hen­sion. Ac­cord­ing to 2009 Na­tion­al As­sess­ment of Edu­ca­tion­al Pro­gress read­ing tests, 33 per­cent of fourth-grade pub­lic school stu­dents were at or be­low the “ba­sic” level of read­ing com­pre­hen­sion, and 26 per­cent of eighth-grade pub­lic school stu­dents per­formed at or be­low the “ba­sic” level.

There are huge dis­par­it­ies in the qual­ity of pub­lic schools in dif­fer­ent states. That’s be­cause nearly half of school fund­ing comes from loc­al prop­erty taxes, giv­ing schools in a high­er tax-brack­et area more fund­ing than schools in im­pov­er­ished areas. So a pub­lic school stu­dent liv­ing in rur­al Mis­sis­sippi will not have nearly as much ac­cess to re­sources as a stu­dent who goes to school in an af­flu­ent New Jer­sey sub­urb. Those re­sources can in­clude books, field trips, and ex­tra­cur­ricular pro­grams.

What Bur­ton’s Kick­starter hopes to do is to level the play­ing field, by mak­ing his Read­ing Rain­bow cur­riculum free to all pub­lic school stu­dents. But it’s sad that it takes people like LeVar Bur­ton to com­pensate for our coun­try’s lit­er­ary fail­ings.

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