The mission of The National Right to Read Foundation is to educate, advocate and encourage the application of the definitive findings of experimental, empirical research in reading instruction. This is the critical ingredient needed to move forward with the reforms necessary to reduce, and ultimately eliminate illiteracy.

Reading curricula for colleges of education and for public, private, sectarian and home-schooled students should all include direct, systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency and comprehension that decades of experimental, empirical research have proven to be the most effective.

All students must first “learn to read” proficiently. Then, and only then, will they be able to “read to learn” and thus have access to the vast treasure house of literature available at home, online, in the workplace, and in libraries everywhere. The National Right to Read Foundation is committed to providing information on a variety of scientifically validated resources to help parents and teachers accomplish these objectives.


Let’s all join hands in making America the most literate nation on earth!




In 1995, we began to honor teachers who exhibit exemplary skill and passion towards teaching. We honor their life’s dedication to enlightening youth to the joys of learning with an award named after another exemplary leader–Dr. Patrick J. Groff.

Dr. Groff was a prolific writer, expert, and advocate for proper reading instruction. He passed away in April 2014 at the end of a long and fruitful life dedicated to education. Only one teacher a year is given this prestigious award; here are the honorees.

Mary-Margaret Scholtens
Founding Member, Executive Director, Apple Group, Inc., Jonesboro, AR

Christine Calabrese
Kindergarten, Edward Everett Hale Elementary School, Brooklyn, NY

Ashlee Martin
Kindergarten, Alta Murrieta Elementary School, Murrieta, CA

Delores Scott
Kindergarten, Collington Square School, Baltimore, MD

Ann Edwards
1st Grade, Litel Elementary School, Chino Hills, CA

Claudia Oyster
Kindergarten, Riverview Elementary, Snohomish, WA

Shirley Ficken
Teacher, The Phoenix Academy of Learning, Omaha, NE

Bertha Zapata
Reading Teacher, Broward Elementary, Tampa, FL

Kathy Alfke
Teacher, Riverside School 44, Indianapolis, IN

Pam Barret
1st Grade, Tovashal Elementary, Murrieta, CA

Cathy Fox
Director of RTR New Jersey & Kindergarten Teacher

Dr. Cindy Cupp
Director of Reading, Georgia Department of Education

Sharon Kientz
Kindergarten, San Miguel Elementary, Santa Rosa, CA

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
– Benjamin Franklin

SUBMIT your recommendation for Teacher of the Year

Our History


The National Right to Read story began in November of 1992, when Robert W. Sweet, Jr. had lunch with a friend. After more than a decade of faithful service in the U.S. government –tirelessly working to improve reading in America—his friend asked, “What would you REALLY like to do with the rest of your life? Forget whether it is practical or not.” It was a moment of truth, a moment never to be forgotten, because the answer and consequent action taken changed the course of his life over the next 30 years. Mr. Sweet’s answer was, “To change the way reading is taught in schools across America”.

On January 8, 1993 the National Right to Read Foundation was established as the first and only nonprofit with the specific mission of returning scientifically validated classroom instruction in reading to America’s public school classrooms.

Between 1998 and 2005, Mr. Sweet took a leave of absence from RTR and continued his work in government, defining in federal law “scientifically based reading research” based on a consensus between reading researchers all across the political spectrum. The Reading Excellence Act was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton in 1998.

By 1999 every elementary school in the United States had received a copy of the Report of the National Reading Panel. This report was the result of the review of more than 100,000 individual scientific studies on reading instruction conducted over many years.

It concluded that systematic, direct instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency and comprehension (THE BIG FIVE) were vital to reforming reading instruction in America and reducing, and ultimately eliminating illiteracy in America.

From 1993 until the present, Executive Director Joy Sweet has managed the day-to-day operations of the Foundation. Over the years this included the thousands upon thousands of phones calls from parents, teachers, and students—all seeking help to overcome the challenges of not having received proper reading instruction.

Their stories are heartbreaking, but with the diligence of Mrs. Sweet and many volunteers to The National Right to Read Foundation in providing them with the necessary tools and resources to succeed—RTR turned tragedy into triumph for so many. Many students who could not read because they were taught to just “guess” the word—are now not only fluent readers, but also college graduates!

Using a phonics based program in my class has transformed my students from struggling to accelerated readers.


I am so grateful for the help RTR provided to me and my children. Now they are thriving lifelong learners with confidence in their abilities.

Our Board Members

Robert Sweet Jr

Robert W. Sweet, Jr.

President and Co-Founder
Strasburg, Virginia

As Co-Founder and President, Bob has testified before Congress, state education committees, local school boards, and parent groups promoting reading instructional programs that are empirically valid.

During his more than 20 years of federal service he has written legislation that has been implemented at both the state and federal level, and has initiated or assisted in the preparation and/or distribution of some of the most significant more recent reports on reading instruction in the United States: Becoming a Nation of Readers, Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print, The Report of the National Reading Panel, “Reading First,” “Early Reading First,” “Bilingual Education,” “Special Education,” “The Institute for Education Research Act,” “The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act,” and “The National Adult Literacy Survey.”

It has been his objective and mission to provide the opportunity for ALL students to learn to read proficiently, no matter what their age, ethnicity, or economic status. He has been unwavering in his commitment to the use of direct, systematic, and intensive teaching of the five components of reading instruction that decades of scientific research have proven to work: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension. The National Right to Read Foundation is dedicated to these objectives with just as much commitment as when it was founded more than 20 years ago.

James Jacobson

James B. Jacobson

Vice President and Co-Founder
Lynchburg, VA

Jim was the Co-Founder and Vice President of NRRF beginning in 1992 after working as a high school teacher, in the Reagan and Bush Administrations, and on the staff of U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey.

Jim produced our Right to Read Report for several years and traveled around the U.S. helping to raise funds. He prepared a prospectus for presentations to Foundations and potential supporters to help raise funds for what was as urgent and worthy cause, traveling across America to meet with multiple potential donors. Jim provided invaluable support and expertise that moved NRRF forward during those early years.

More recently, as part of his current position as President of a humanitarian rights organization, he has been successfully teaching Burmese refugee children, whose first language is not English, to read, write, and spell English using a program that follows the principles of empirical scientific research.


Joy Sweet

Executive Director/Board Secretary-Treasurer
Strasburg, Virginia

Joy has managed the day-to-day operations of NRRF since its founding in 1993. She has answered thousands of phone calls from inquiring and often desperate parents whose children were struggling with learning to read. She has kept the books, organized and implemented the many mailings done over the years, identified our State Directors/Ambassadors, and provided them with the essential informational tools to educate parents, teachers, legislators, school board members, and the general public about effective, empirically based reading methods.

She has overseen the mail and sent out hundreds of free reading programs to needy parents who could not afford to purchase them. Joy has supervised the growth of the website content since NRRF first established an Internet presence (www.nrrf.org). Without her faithful and continued support NRRF would not be in business today.


Cathy Froggatt

St. Joseph, Michigan

John and Cathy Froggatt have been supporting NRRF for more than two decades. It all began when Cathy was a mom with children in an elementary school in Maryland. She discovered that the reading program being used in the school was not working for her children. She contacted NRRF, and after many phone calls, visits to their school district, meetings with parents and teachers, and providing as much information as possible, the school district began using research based methods of reading instruction, and her efforts paid off.

Cathy was not only interested in making sure her own children learned to read proficiently, but that all children in the district would as well. Her husband, John, was a physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the time. Their family moved to North Carolina and Cathy continued to help NRRF – answering forwarded phone calls, advocating for phonics instruction at the state level, and providing wise counsel to both Joy and me, especially during the five years when NRRF was our full time “mission.”

Since moving to Michigan, she and her husband have continued to support NRRF and have been encouraging us as we continue our efforts to help children learn to read proficiently. In 2002 she served the Federal Department of Education as an expert reviewer for state applications for Reading First grants available under the “No Child Left Behind” legislation.


John Sweet

Warrenton, VA

John’s experience with his own children in teaching them to read makes him an invaluable asset to NRRF. His oldest daughter Summer is now in the second grade, and although she has been attending a private school, parts of the reading instructional program were not consistent with empirical reading research. John has been in regular communication with the teachers and has provided them with up to date information on how reading should be taught.

He and his wife Angela also informed themselves on the steps necessary to teach their own children to read and have been extremely successful in this effort. Summer was able to read before she entered first grade. She was just tested for entrance in a new school for next year (2014-15), and her scores indicate she is reading at high school level! Her three-year-old brother is now being taught the letters and sounds just like his sister, and we expect the same result. This practical, hands on experience with children at the age when they should be learning these skills brings a first-hand, relevant, and compelling perspective to our mission.


Beth Olexa

Warrenton, VA

Beth has been an elementary school teacher for many years and teaches in the Fairfax County, VA school system. She was provided additional instruction in teaching reading from federal funds provided by the “Reading First” legislation passed in 2002. Thousands of teachers all across America were received training and information about how reading should be taught to make it consistent with the five scientifically proven components of reading instruction: direct, systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension. She has applied this in her classroom with great success.

She is the author of a children’s book titled “The Bossy H”. Beth brings her current experience as a teacher in one of the largest and most affluent public school systems in America. She has served on textbook selection committees and understands the mechanics of “school politics,” and especially the debate on how to teach reading effectively.


Cyndi LaSalle

Gorham, ME

Cyndi is a 4th grade teacher in a public school in Maine. She has been teaching for many years, and from her very first days in the classroom she realized that at least one half of the students who came to her classroom could not read. She was frustrated by that fact because these students were unable to read the subject matter she was required to teach them. They could not read the textbooks at their own grade level.

Cyndi did extensive research into the most effective way to teach reading and decided that for the first half of the year she would teach the students who were below grade level to read proficiently. She purchased reading programs that would help her students, often with her own money, and in some cases against the recommendations of her colleagues and administration. However, she succeeded in bringing the reading level of her students up to the appropriate grade level and then taught them as much subject matter during the last half of the year as possible. She has served on textbook selection committees and is an advocate for teaching reading based on empirical research.


Carol Anderson

Indian Trail, NC

Carol lives in the Charlotte, N.C. area, with her husband and three children. She has had first hand observation of the benefits of using research-based methods to teach reading. Her children attend a private school that uses these methods. All three read well above grade level as do the other students in the school who have gone through this intensive systematic process. She has also had the opportunity to serve as a School Board Member at her children’s school, and has been an advocate for the continued use of reading materials that are based upon the findings of scientific research. Her experience as a School Board member provides a valuable perspective because this is often where decisions on the choice of reading textbooks are made.




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PO Box 560
Stasburg VA, 22657
or info@nrrf.org




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