Literacy Leadership Awards

Literacy Leadership Awards

literacy awards

The National Coalition for Literacy’s Leadership Awards recognize individuals and organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to improving adult literacy in the United States. Award recipients have demonstrated a deep and sustained individual or corporate commitment by supporting literacy continuously across the lifespan on the local, state, and national level.

In 2018, the Coalition inaugurated the Barbara Bush Lifetime Achievement in Adult Literacy Award. This new award is intended to recognize an individual who has made significant contributions as an advocate for adult literacy over a full professional career.

For 2018, the Coalition made four awards in addition to the Barbara Bush Award. Congratulations to the award recipients:

The inaugural Barbara Bush Lifetime Achievement in Adult Literacy Award: Gail Spangenberg

Gail Spangenberg has been a consistent and influential voice in support of educational opportunity for low-skilled adults for decades. Her focus has consistently been the expansion and improvement of policies and programs that allow these adults to develop the literacy and workplace skills necessary to support their families, promote their children’s education, and participate effectively in civic and community life.

Literacy Leadership Awards:

  • Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
The award recognizes the Senator for her longtime support of education at all levels, and particularly for her work on the recent reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Her advocacy for the inclusion of tribes and tribal organizations opens the path to educational opportunity for youth and adults from these key populations of adult learners.
  • National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy (Migration Policy Institute)
The award recognizes the Center, and its director, Margie McHugh, for its ongoing advocacy for education quality and access for adults who are immigrants and refugees.
  • Student Ambassador Program
The award recognizes the program, developed by the staff at Pima Community College led by Regina Suitt, for its many years of success in both conducting advocacy for adult education and enabling adult learners to develop confidence in themselves and in their skills as advocates. That success, and the quality and value of the program, have led to its growth to national scale through the COABE Student Ambassador Training in the past year.
  • Jeff Carter
The award recognizes Jeff’s long and effective career as an advocate for adult literacy and adult education, culminating in the presidency of the Committee for Education Funding.
The 2018 awards were presented to honorees at a formal event on Capitol Hill during Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. The event took place on Tuesday, September 25, 2018, 4:00-6:00 PM, in the Cannon House Office Building, Room 340.

Past award recipients:


  • Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), for her long-standing dedication to our nation’s adult literacy and language programs and her efforts to safeguard education and other critical programs that ensure equal employment opportunity for adults with low literacy levels, most recently as Ranking Member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
  • Dr. Stephen Reder, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics, Portland State University, for his tireless advocacy for adult learners and the field of adult education, and for his extensive research on the impacts of adult literacy skills attainment, culminating in the 10-year Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning that has demonstrated the correlation between participation in adult education and increases in income, educational attainment, and civic participation.
  • Dr. Sharon Darling, Founder and President, the National Center for Families Learning, for her key role in recognizing the critical link between parents’ education and children’s learning, and for her nearly three decades of leadership in in establishing a nationwide network of programs that provide high quality, accessible family-based education and that have helped over one million vulnerable families learn and thrive together.
  • The Minnesota ABE Teaching and Learning Advancement System (ATLAS) at Hamline University, for its innovative, practitioner-centered program that provides quality in-service professional development for the ABE/ESOL workforce, promoting program and instructional quality, informing adult literacy practice nationwide, and producing national leaders in the field.


  • Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, for his long-standing commitment to advancing adult education at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Senator Jack Reed, who has been a champion for adult education funding in the U.S. Senate, and at the forefront of legislative efforts to strengthen adult education research and adult education’s role in the workforce system and career and technical education.
  • The Division of Consumer & Business Education at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, for its commitment to serving and guiding adults with limited reading ability, and for its outreach to those working with them, particularly teachers in adult basic education and ESL programs.
  • Margaret Becker Patterson, of Research Allies for Lifelong Learning, and Marty Finsterbusch, of VALUE USA, for ALLIES, a groundbreaking research study on adult learner leadership.
  • John Y. Cole, Library of Congress Historian and founding Director of the Center for the Book, who has been instrumental in shaping numerous literacy and reading-promotion programs during his 50-year tenure at the Library, including the Library of Congress Literacy Awards.

In addition, retiring Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), the Co-chair of the House Adult Literacy Caucus, received special recognition for his lifelong commitment in support of adult education, and for outstanding leadership in advocating education as a congressional and national priority.


  • Representative Phil Roe (TN)
  • Mayor Michael Nutter, Philadelphia, PA
  • Kavitha Cardoza, Special Correspondent for WAMU/reports on D.C. area news
  • Mary Jane Schmitt and the Adult Numeracy Network (ANN)


  • Senator Jim Webb
  • David Baldacci, author and founder of the Wish You Well Foundation
  • Ruth J. Colvin, Founder of Literacy Volunteers of Greater Syracuse and Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. (now ProLiteracy)
  • The Save Adult Ed Campaign, a Los Angeles-based adult education advocacy group


  • Representative Jared Polis
  • John Corcoran, former adult literacy student and founder of the John Corcoran Foundation (2011)
  • The Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, representing the National Literacy*AmeriCorps program (2011)
  • U.S.A. Learns (2011)


  • Senator Thomas Harkin
  • Representative John Yarmuth
  • Kentucky Education Television (KET)
  • McDonald’s English Under the Arches program
  • Archie Willard, Adult Learner Advocate and Leader


  • Representative Raúl Grijalva
  • Senator Patricia Murray
  • Home Safety Council President Meri-K Appy
  • Brenda Dann-Messier, President and CEO of Dorcas Place
  • Calvin Miles, Adult Learner and Advocate
  • Gretchen Wilson, Recording Artist and GED Graduate


  • Representative Rubén Hinojosa
  • Better World Books
  • The National Council of La Raza
  • Dr. John Comings, former Director of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education


  • Representative Michael Castle
  • Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • David A. Perdue Jr., former Chairman and CEO of Dollar General
  • Dr. Irwin Kirsch, Director of the Center for Global Assessment, Educational Testing Service
  • The UPS Foundation


  • The American Library Association (ALA)
  • Senator Olympia Snowe
  • Representative Dale Kildee
  • Andy Brown, former Executive Director of Public Affairs and Policy Communications at Verizon
  • Jackie Taylor, a Tennessee-based volunteer literacy advocate
2005 Award Winners
2005 Award winners: Denine Torr of the Dollar General Foundation; Rep. William F. Goodling, Retired Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; former New York State Director of Adult Education Garrett Murphy; New Hampshire State Director of Adult Education Art Ellison; Dale Lipschultz, NCL President in 2005.


  • Representative William F. Goodling
  • Senator Edward M. Kennedy
  • The Dollar General Literacy Foundation
  • Art Ellison, New Hampshire State Director of Adult Education
  • Garrett Murphy, Former New York State Director of Adult Education