Experts in Reading

Research shows what educators know all too well: Children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives. And, they’re likely to fall behind in their other classes too.

We at Foundations in Learning are passionate about literacy. Learning to read unleashes the joy of learning and sets students up for lifelong success. We believe that students can learn to read at any age with the right tools and instruction.

Eric Soride, Jason Smith, Carolyn Brown, Jason Smith and Allison Zimmermann pose for a group photo.

Our mission is to unlock educational opportunity for all students by providing teachers and students with best-in-class literacy tools that leverage the science of learning.

WordFlight is the labor of love from a group of dedicated reading researchers, authors, and cognitive scientists who want to help more students learn to read. WordFlight is Foundations in Learning’s flagship offering.

Our founders and leaders

Foundations in Learning’s experts have decades of experience creating, testing, and providing schools with effective programs to meet the individual needs of their students.

Carolyn Brown, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer and Co-Founder

Carolyn Brown

Dr. Brown has devoted her career to developing tools and testing solutions that optimize language and literacy development for all students. She and her colleagues have received support from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the State of Iowa.

Dr. Brown received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Eastern New Mexico University and her Ph.D. in the same field at University of Iowa. Her areas of specialization are child development, language acquisition, and the science of reading.

She and husband, Dr. Jerry Zimmermann, have co-founded three companies: Breakthrough to Literacy, the Iowa Language and Literacy Institute and Foundations in Learning. Each was organized to advance current science and create solutions to help all children learn to read.

She is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Iowa.

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Jerry Zimmermann, Ph.D., J.D, VP of Research and Co-Founder

Jerry Zimmermann

Dr. Zimmermann remains a research scientist at heart. He received a B.A. in psychology from Brown University, an M.S. in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Southern Illinois University, and a Ph.D. in Speech Science from the University of Iowa. He also received two postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Iowa, both of which were supported by the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, he earned his J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law.

Alongside Dr. Brown, he has co-founded three organizations to advance access to reading and learning for all children. He is an adjunct professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Iowa.

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Allison Zimmermann, President & Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Allison Zimmermann

Before taking the helm as CEO, Allison previously served as the Chief Strategy Officer for the company. She brings over 15 years of experience working in the education sector creating equity and opportunity for students. She has worked as a teacher, administrator, and consultant, providing strategic support to schools, non-profits, start-ups, and Fortune 500 companies across the country.

Previously, Allison launched NewView, a non-profit focused on creating tri-sector solutions for society’s largest challenges. She continues to serve on the board of the organization. Allison began her career as a special education middle school teacher in New York City and a Teach for America corps member. Allison graduated from Boston University with a B.S. in International Relations and Political Science. She received a M.S.Ed. in Middle School General and Special Education from Bank Street College and M.P.P. and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Michigan.

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Jason Smith, Chief Operating Officer

Jason Smith

Since 2010, Jason has managed all field operations of district implementations and product test sites, including professional development, implementation monitoring, quality assurance, and marketing. He is also responsible for the operational management of state and federal grants and contracts.

Previously, Jason served in several capacities at ACT including sales director for the QualityCore end-of-course assessment product. Prior to joining ACT, he was Vice President of Implementation at Breakthrough to Literacy. His more than 20 years of experience in the educational publishing/assessment markets have encompassed a range of responsibilities including sales, management, marketing, and program implementation. Jason received his B.A. in Economics from Brown University and an M.B.A. with a concentration in Finance from the University of Iowa.

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Eric Soride, Chief Technology Officer

Eric Soride

Eric supervises all of WordFlight’s technology development. Eric has 18 years of experience managing all technological aspects involved in the development, testing, and support of software-based educational products. He joined the team after working for 10 years for Breakthrough to Literacy in a range of operational and technology roles. Eric received B.A. degrees in Political Science and Religion from the University of Iowa.

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Research team

Bob McMurray, Ph.D.

Bob McMurray, Ph.D.

Cognitive Scientist
University of Iowa

Eliot Hazeltine, Ph.D.

Eliot Hazeltine, Ph.D.

Cognitive Scientist
University of Iowa

Keith S. Baxelbaum

Keith S. Baxelbaum, Ph.D.

Data Scientist
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Scientific Advisory Board

Bob McMurray, Ph.D.
Danielle M. Thompson, PhD CCC-SLP

Danielle M. Thompson, PhD CCC-SLP, is an educational consultant, teacher of educators, a servant leader and, insatiably curious about all things that make people’s lives better. She is an agent of positive change working to help teachers and leaders re-think, unlearn, and up-level their knowledge. As a Speech Language Pathologist and teacher, she worked with PreK-12 grade students for over a decade in rural at-risk environments from Alaska to Mississippi in public schools, Head Starts, and private practice. Currently she is the President and Founder of The Transformative Reading Teacher Group, President of The Reading League Montana and the creator of The Big Sky Literacy Summit.

Eliot Hazeltine, Ph.D.
Tim Odegard, Professor of Psychology

Tim Odegard is a Professor of Psychology holding the Katherine Davis Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies, and he leads the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia at Middle Tennessee State University. He contributes significantly to advancing the Science of Reading in key leadership roles. He currently serves As Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Dyslexia and consulting editor for the Journal of Learning Disabilities, and is a past editor of Perspective on Language and Literacy. He was a contributing author on the IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading. He is a past Vice President of the Texas Dyslexia Licensure Advisory Committee and has served as a member of the International Dyslexia Association’s (IDA) Educational Training Initiative.
His commitment to enhancing educational opportunities extends beyond students with dyslexia, and Tim works on broader literacy initiatives throughout the United States. His service has included chairing the Foundational Literacy Skills working group for the Haskins Global Literacy Hub Policy Summit, serving as a technical consultant for a review of the K-2 core curriculum in Arkansas, and serving as a national consultant for Kentucky’s foundational literacy skills and reading disabilities work. He contributed to online training for several state departments of education and has provided technical support to some of the largest school districts in the U.S. He currently serves as a member of the California Reading Difficulties Risk Selection panel and several advisory boards for nonprofit groups making meaningful impacts in communities across the nation.

About Foundations in Learning

Foundations in Learning—best known for its innovative offering, WordFlight—is a provider of scientifically based, empirically derived reading solutions for elementary and middle school age students. We leverage the most current learning science to advance the science of reading and practice of reading instruction.

Girl studying with pen and paper

Our History

2009 – 2014:

  • Established the company, Foundations in Learning, to make reading accessible for all children.
  • Gathered a research and development team to understand why so many students were not reading on grade level and understand what was missing in the current reading instruction.
  • Identified that automatic word recognition was the missing link for at least one third of students in the United States.
  • Tested and validated the first and only application of the Varied Practice Model from cognitive science to reading skill development of automaticity and fluency.


  • Received support from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the Department of Education to develop and validate the online assessment tools.
  • Continuously researched, tested and refined the assessment and instructional solutions through partnerships with schools and their 15,000 students.
  • Granted a patent for the diagnostic assessment.
  • Integrated assessment and practice into one platform.

2021 – Today:

  • Launched WordFlight.
  • Nominated as a finalist for the 2023 SIIA Innovation Showcase.

WordFlight is an easy-to-use, personalized learning tool for both students and teachers. See for yourself.