WETA, the Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book join forces to establish a free, innovative professional development platform that provides educators with evidence-based guidance and tools for how to teach reading and writing

Arlington, VA - WETA, the Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book have launched a prototype of Reading Universe, an online, step-by-step professional development pathway for teachers, paraprofessionals, and reading coaches to learn more about evidence-based reading instruction — and then translate it into classroom practice that will complement any curriculum. Just in time to support educators’ preparations for the new school year, the site features an interactive taxonomy of reading skills, lesson plans, in-classroom videos, printable activities, and decodable texts – all for free.

Reading Universe distills 50 years of education research in order to strengthen literacy skills across the country. The work of the Barksdale Reading Institute (BRI) in Mississippi serves as its foundation. In January 2000, former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale invested $100 million in his home state to establish BRI with the singular goal of strengthening early literacy skills. Setting the National Assessment of Education Progress for 4th grade reading as its metric, BRI used evidence-based reading instruction to anchor a literacy model that went to scale with the passage of the state’s “3rd grade law.” From being ranked on or near the bottom for early reading to bucking national trends and soaring to 21st in 2022, BRI has been a leading voice in proving the potential of high-quality, data-driven reading instruction.

“It is enormously gratifying to know that the lessons we have learned from our success in Mississippi will be made available everywhere through Reading Universe — giving all children the opportunity to learn how to read and write well,” according to Mr. Barksdale.


Now, BRI, WETA, and First Book are producing video-rich and interactive reading tools as a free, web-based service for all educators across the country. The launch of the new website through this national partnership signals an important commitment to providing support directly to classroom teachers to enable them to meet the needs of struggling readers, especially in low-income and marginalized communities.

As this new resource is launched, First Book, an educational equity nonprofit, will lead market research and leverage the insights from its network of more than 550,000 educators serving kids in need. By building a grassroots, educator-driven evaluation and feedback loop, Reading Universe will combine the research with educator experiences to deliver reliable and up to date information and tools to support best practices.

“Reading Universe’s innovative framework delivers on an age-old promise of quality education for all,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “Its comprehensive research-based approach is guided by the science of reading and embraces the belief that every student, regardless of background, is brimming with potential and the capacity to become a lifelong reader.”

WETA, the flagship public media company in Washington, D.C. and a major producer of PBS programs, will add Reading Universe to its unparalleled portfolio of literacy services for educators and families, including Reading Rockets, Colorín Colorado, LD OnLine, and AdLit.org.

“WETA is proud to bring Reading Universe to educators across the country,” said Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA. “As a former Head Start teacher, an avid reader, and a lifelong believer in the power of education, I’m thrilled that we are leading the charge to  effectively support educators as they build on their skills, and work to teach each and every child how to read.”

Reading Universe is made possible by generous support from Jim & Donna Barksdale, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and two anonymous donors.

“Reading is a fundamental skill—the key to college and career, to life, to joy, to democracy and to our very existence,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. “To encourage our students to become joyful and confident readers, we must understand that teaching reading is not just an art, but also a science. While school districts offer an array of programs and curricula that educators are often required to use, Reading Universe gives them access to additional strategies and skills to help them help kids. It’s an online, step-by-step pathway for teachers, paraprofessionals and reading coaches to learn more about evidence-based reading instruction and then deploy it in their classrooms to complement any curriculum. We are thrilled to support the launch of this powerful and free tool.”

To learn more about Reading Universe and begin accessing the latest best practices and insights for teaching reading and writing, visit ReadingUniverse.org.  



WETA is the leading public media company in the nation’s capital, serving Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia with educational initiatives and high-quality programming for television, radio, and digital. WETA Washington, D.C. is the second-largest producing station for public television in the United States, with news and public affairs programs including PBS NewsHour, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and Washington Week; films by Ken Burns such as The U.S. and the Holocaust and the forthcoming film The American Buffalo; series and documentaries by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., including Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Making Black America: Through the Grapevine; performance specials including The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, National Memorial Day Concert, and A Capitol Fourth; and health content from Well Beings, a multiplatform campaign. The organization’s public service websites ReadingRockets.org, ColorinColorado.org, LDOnLine.org, AdLit.org, StartWithABook.org and BrainLine.org provide resources surrounding child development, literacy, education and the brain. More information on WETA along with its programs and services are available at weta.org. Visit facebook.com/wetatvfm on Facebook or follow @WETAtvfm on Twitter.


First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its thirty-year history, First Book has distributed more than 225 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its network of more than 550,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research-based strategies to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. 

For more information, visit firstbook.org or follow the latest news on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Reading Universe logg with tagline: All About Teaching Reading & Writing