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Start Your Business Entrepreneurs

Small Business Snapshot: ReadWorks

Small Business Snapshot: ReadWorks Credit: ReadWorks

Our Small Business Snapshot series features photos that represent, in just one image, what the small businesses we feature are all about. Dave Ciulla, executive director of ReadWorks, explains how this image represents his business.

The country is currently experiencing a literacy crisis: 66 percent of U.S. fourth graders can't read or comprehend at grade level, regardless of family income. ReadWorks came out of a school that was helping public schools teachers in Harlem in the early 1990s. At that time, we realized that how we taught literacy had to change, fast.

Founded in 2011, ReadWorks' goal was and remains to help teachers teach reading more effectively and help students become much better readers — for free.

We knew we needed to approach the problem differently and reexamine where our classrooms were falling short. With a small team of nine full-time employees and access to researchers and experts, ReadWorks started creating easy-to-use lessons for teachers that were based on cognitive science research and not unproven academic theory. We implemented research around how people acquire language, why they struggle to learn to read, dyslexia and reading disabilities and so on.

ReadWorks focuses obsessively on "the moment of instruction," which is when a teacher engages one or more students around a text or an idea. Teachers, too, need some instructional guidance to be sure they are using the most effective practices based on proven cognitive science— something our lesson materials incorporate.

Our success is based largely on word-of-mouth; we grew quickly, and are now used by teachers in 78 percent of U.S. schools. ReadWorks is also the most consulted creator and provider of English Language Arts curriculum in the country.

Looking forward, we're entering partnerships with leading museums and cultural institutions, like the American Museum of Natural History, The History Channel and the Audubon Society to make students much better readers by learning about science, history, music, and art — crucial background knowledge that furthers reading comprehension over the course of a student’s academic and post-academic lifetime.

We're also reaching tech-forward classrooms: We just launched our digital platform that will enable teachers and students to use ReadWorks on any device and will provide a wealth of data to drive continuous product improvement and measure efficacy. Audiobooks are also in the works.

Right now, one of our biggest challenges is that our rapid growth has brought us to the classic inflection point. To reach our potential, we need to make a step-change improvement in our capacity — both human capital and financial resources.

Edited for length and clarity by Sammi Caramela.