By LeVar Burton and Liz Brooke

Schools and communities are absolutely essential in addressing the literacy crisis. Schools are where children spend a significant portion of their formative years and have a unique opportunity to instill a love of reading and provide the instruction and support needed to develop strong literacy skills. This includes not only teach- ing children how to decode and comprehend text but also fostering a culture of reading and providing access to high-quality literature across various genres and topics.

Communities also play a vital role in supporting literacy. This can involve everything from providing access to libraries and literacy programs to engaging families in reading activities and advocating for policies that sup- port literacy education. Literacy is truly a collective responsibility, and it requires collaboration and commit- ment from all sectors of society to ensure that every child has the opportunity to become a proficient reader.

Ultimately, addressing the literacy crisis requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both the individual and systemic factors contributing to low literacy levels. It’s about recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental human right and working together to create a world where every person has the skills and op- portunities they need to thrive.

We have failed to properly educate several generations of American children, and one of the reasons has been the battle for methodology. We won’t go into the politics of it, but let us all remember that politics are a part of everything. Suffice it to say, we took our eye off the prize and allowed politics to really dictate policy in a way that was detrimental to the process of learning how to teach literacy, and our students are suffering as a result.

We often hear from educators about the intensely personal and emotional journey of shifting from how they were taught to teach reading to learning about this explicit, systematic approach called the science of read- ing or the application of that through Structured Literacy.

A 50 Year Journey

We know the science of reading is not new. It includes over 50 years of reading research. But it has been a journey connected to political policies. Co-author LeVar was surprised to discover that we had moved away from a more scientific approach to teaching reading in our classrooms. He is of the age and generation that learned how to read using a phonics-based approach that gave learners the skills to crack the code, and that’s not what whole language or balanced literacy offers. When he heard that we were in this quandary and looked into what happened and why, LeVar was not surprised to find out that there was a political ele- ment to the decision to move away from what we knew worked and to experiment on a couple of genera- tions of America’s children.

Once he knew what was going on, LeVar looked for a way to engage that made sense and to try and help get us back to what he knew to be right. When he encountered Jenny Mackenzie (the director of The Right to Read documentary) and her team, he was struck by just how completely and comprehensively they stated the problem and how to go about fixing it.

Literacy is a fundamental human right, as important as the right to have clean food and water, shelter, and safety. Literacy is also a civil right because regardless of zip code, all students deserve access to high quality instruction and highly knowledgeable teachers. If you can read in at least one language, you are free. No one can hold sway over your mind because you have the means to self-educate.

Lexia has been championing the work of NAACP activist Kareem Weaver and the team behind Right to Read. It is an amazing documentary that shares the stories of Kareem, first grade teacher Sabrina Causey, and two American families who are fighting to provide a curriculum based on the science of reading. The film is based on Kareem, a champion of literacy, who was looking for solutions to give to his community and support teachers in producing better outcomes for readers. The entire package was such a powerful statement to LeVar about where we were and where we needed to go that upon seeing a rough cut of the documentary early in the process, he was all in.

In the present day, we know what to do. We know what works and how to do it. We need to reach schools and school systems. And we need to get communities, as well as policymakers, involved.

Kareem Weaver gave us a wonderful model for community engagement through the NAACP and there are so many other community organizations that we can utilize in this battle for the science of reading as our meth- odology. In relation to policy creation, we need to engage our representatives. Reach out to your U.S. repre- sentative or your local state representative and let them know how you feel about which methodology we’re using. And as parents, we need to start asking questions of the principal and the school board. How is read- ing being taught in my kids’ school? What are we doing to combat this literacy crisis in America? Are we using a scientific approach? Are we signed on for the science of reading?

One of the objections we often hear is that the science of reading is just phonics and it’s not fun, not about the love of reading. Some people feel like if they move towards this science of reading or give up their bal- anced literacy and whole language approach, they’re moving away from teaching the love of reading. But at the end of the day, if how we’re teaching is not resulting in a confident reader, then we’re not serving them well. The proof is in the pudding.

You can’t develop a love for the written word if the written word continues to present a challenge that you feel is insurmountable. And so, it is important that we take what we know to be true and enact it in our pro- cess and our methodology. And what we know is that balanced literacy, whole word, and whole language instruction just doesn’t get it done. And although the intention may have been good, we must make a change.

If people truly begin to see literacy as a civil right, then it becomes an urgent matter, and we understand that we need to make this shift now. It’s not about blaming people. It’s not about looking back and saying what you’ve been doing for the last 20 years is wrong. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” is an often used quote attributed to the inspirational poet, writer, and human rights advocate, Maya Angelou. This phrase has been used to inspire people to raise their personal and professional standards and to always strive to do the right thing. It encourages us to reflect on our learning and assess our progress. So, now that we collectively know better, we can do better and move forward. It is what the Science of Reading Week was all about.

The good news is, we are currently engaged in a national conversation with such documentaries like Right to Read and podcasts like Sold a Story sharing in great detail on how we’re teaching our kids to read, and it’s different than it was five years ago. We are on our way to achieving critical mass, a tipping point where this methodology is adopted everywhere. This national conversation about how we teach our kids to read is ex- actly where we need to be to realize an equitable solution to our national reading crisis.

We are encouraged that the conversation is on almost everyone’s radar now. We are very close. For now, vigilance is what’s required. We need to be ever vigilant because so much is at stake. Change starts with the education of parents as well as helping the colleges and universities understand how they need to rethink how they train teachers before they’re in the classroom.

All the teachers that are already in the classroom should be given the ingredients for what makes up evidence-based instruction. It’s about an education of all the players across the system, and then staying vigilant.

Science of reading is not just phonics, and it certainly isn’t about taking the fun out of reading. The training to get us there should accelerate teacher and administrator knowledge by addressing four critical outcomes for effective literacy instruction: understanding the science of reading, converting research to practice, enhancing teacher effectiveness, and transforming instruction.

By understanding the “why” behind the science and evidence-based instruction, educators can effectively aid students in learning to read.

For now, the conversation continues, and the upside potential is too great to ignore. The science of reading can take us to a place of literacy for all, so all can realize their civil right of literacy.

Editor’s note: LeVar and Liz appeared on a recent webinar for the Science of Reading week, hosted by Lexia and, a professional learning network. Much of the content in this article was taken from that webinar.

About the authors

Liz Brooke, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is Chief Learning Officer at Lexia. She is a lifelong learner who is dedicated to empowering literacy educators and supporting students. Liz is passionate about connecting research to the practical world of schools and classrooms and helping educators understand the ‘why’ behind instruction and assessments. She shares Lexia’s mission of changing lives through the power of language and literacy education, and it continues to be a driving force behind all her work. Visit Lexia at

LeVar Burton is an actor, director, and educator; he has taught multiple generations of children about the joys of reading through his work on “Reading Rainbow.” Burton is the award-winning author of The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, A Kids Book About Imagination, and his Grammy Nominated book, Aftermath.