CLOSING CAAL: A Message from CAAL’s President

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Many good things must come to an end, including CAAL, which will officially close by the end of this year.  Farewells are never easy and we take this step with mixed feelings. There is so much work to do in Adult Education and CAAL is uniquely positioned to do some important parts of it.  But we have done what we set out to do, and financial considerations, including the end of our McGraw-Hill* funding and space, are key motivating factors.

I’m proud of what CAAL has accomplished in its 15 years (building on the work of the Business Council for Effective Literacy, which I headed up following my Ford Foundation years).  I think it’s fair to say that CAAL has “moved the needle,” through our policy development work, research, initiatives to improve state practice and planning, information clearinghouse, and interactions with domestic and international audiences.  So many people have helped us along the way–a wide range of expert consultants, several task forces and roundtable professionals, the insightful work of numerous other organizations, many amazing McGraw Hill professionals, and a blue-ribbon National Commission on Adult Literacy.

I want to extend my warmest thanks to so many individuals and organizations for making our work possible.

First and foremost, to the incredibly dedicated CAAL core staff ! You have labored long and hard, sometimes without adequate compensation, and with abiding loyalty.  Your collective knowledge, intellectual rigor, and fundamental decency and caring are the CAAL imprint.  I offer my heartfelt thanks to Forrest Chisman, Bess Heitner, Paula Jarowski, Garrett Murphy, Jim Parker, and Gene Sofer.

Many other outstanding professionals have also worked with us over the years. CAAL couldn’t have stood so tall without you.  There is no way to recognize all of you here, but literally hundreds of people have been a vital part of our effort.  You know who you are.  I thank each and every one of you. Very special thanks to Linda del Boccio, Amanda Chan, Rosa Garcia, Cheryl King, Moira Lenehan, Tim Ponder, Elliot Schwartz, and Jane Terry.

I’m humbled by the quality of people who have served with me on CAAL’s Board.  Your service brought weight and cachet to our voice.  Current members are Eunice Askov, Morton Bahr, Mark Lawrance, the Hon. Ray Marshall, Gail Mellow, Mark Musick, Tony Sarmiento, and Andrew Sum.  Former members are Bobby William Austin, Forrest Chisman, the late Samuel Halperin, Grace Hechinger, Harold (Doc) Howe II, Cheryl D. King, Bridget Lamont, Byron McClenney, Garrett Murphy, Tom Sticht, Gary Strong, Tony Zeiss, and Arthur White.  Deepest appreciation to you all.

CAAL owes its very existence to the many sources that provided grants and individual donations. Our organizational donors gave some $4.6 million: The McGraw-Hill Companies ($1,800,250 including in-kind support, thanks to the late Harold W. McGraw, Jr. and his son Terry, Chairman of McGraw Hill), Dollar General Corporation ($1,317,500, mostly for the National Commission on Adult Literacy, thanks to former CEO David Perdue and to Denine Torr), the Mott, Hewlett, and Joyce Foundations ($335,000, $300,000, and $210,000 respectively), Verizon ($207,100), the Ford Foundation ($110,000), Wal-Mart ($100,000), the Lumina, Annie Casey, and Nellie Mae Foundations ($87,000, $77,900 and $50,000), AT&T ($25,000), Household International ($7,500), and the Ostgrodd and Edith C. Blum Foundations and Goldman Sachs ($3,600).

Individual donors contributed $875,000.  My friend and colleague Harold W. McGraw, Jr. was in on the founding of CAAL. He personally donated $800,000.  The balance came from dedicated CAAL board members (especially champions Mark Musick and Sam Halperin) and from other friends and colleagues.

Thanks are also due to you the reader, the students, the teachers, the program directors, the frontline people.  You play an essential role in communities across this land every day—developing and implementing policy, adapting new research, planning programs that are responsive to your local demographics, raising funds, providing services, teaching and learning.  You are the backbone of everything, the motivation for all we have done.  I’m glad to know so many of you and to be enriched by your knowledge and commitment.  I recognized long ago what an extraordinarily decent group of colleagues you are!

Soon after CAAL closes, I plan to set up a consulting group aligned with a university or other nonproifit to carry out special projects in the future. Some of my CAAL and other colleagues may join forces with me.  But for now, thank you all very very much!  You have honored the entire CAAL staff and board with your interest and dedication, your trust and collegiality, and the generosity of your time and thought over the years.

The CAAL website, including its blogs, will remain active indefinitely to ensure continuing access to all of our publications.  Our website ( reflects the results of much of our work over the years—through our array of publications, essays, legislative resources, blogs, and other materials.  It’s gratifying even at this point to see how much traffic the site gets and the continuing interest in our publications, including Reach Higher, America, the final report of the National Commission on Adult Literacy. CAAL’s email service will also remain active for a time so that you can continue to reach me as usual and I can stay in touch with the issues (or contact me at

I hope you’ll stay steadfast in your attention to the messages of the recent PIAAC assessment ( and to the promise of the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (, and Neither is an end in itself, but both offer new opportunities.  Family literacy, correctional education, health literacy, ESL programming, workforce and workplace literacy–all are essential elements of Adult Education.  For years to come, there will be plenty to do in all of these areas, by professionals at all levels, especially to meet the funding challenge.

In Past Gains, Future Goals, 30 state and national leaders offer their current thoughts in a special CAAL Blog about recent achievements and coming priorities. I hope you will find their analyses and suggestions stimulating. There are at least 46 million reasons to keep fighting the fight: the massive number of low-skilled adult students PIAAC tells us are in need of basic skills services.

Here’s to the future!  Here’s to you!  I’m so deeply privileged to have spent so much of my professional life with you.

Gail Spangenberg

*  Note:  The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. has been in transformation for the past couple of years.  Its Education Division was sold in 2013, and the Company is now called McGraw Hill Financial with Standard & Poors at its core.  As a result of these changes, the new McGraw Hill is vacating its space at Rockefeller Center and moving staff to two other locations, the lower Manhattan Financial District and 2 Penn Plaza.


22 thoughts on “CLOSING CAAL: A Message from CAAL’s President

  1. Bravo! Gail. Job well done. I am glad to know that we will continue to benefit from your sage advice.

  2. Thank you, Gail, for the tremendous work you have done – and the many, many important contributions you and CAAL have made to our field. I will miss the informative newsletters and your blog. I feel privileged that I was able to participate in two different roundtables, and thank you for the opportunity. Please keep me posted on your next steps and wishing you all the best!

  3. Wow, Gail. This is really something!! You decided that you want to have more free time, right? I will really miss you! Not that I was much of a participant after I left CAL, but still…. You all have made WONDERFUL contributions to the field!!

  4. So sorry to hear you are closing down. CAAL’s leadership and contributions have been exemplary and impacted adult ed at so many levels. I wish you all the best and I’m sure we’ll be hearing from you again.


  5. I’m sorry to hear that you’re closing CAAL. I agree with your assessment in the blog posting, Gail, that CAAL has been a significant force in our field. Thanks for all you’ve accomplished and contributed to literacy and adult education. We lose another important voice with this news; however, I’m heartened that you’re looking for other opportunities to continue your impact. Do let me know if I can provide any support as you go forward.

  6. What a valedictory message…what an honor to work with you…support your work and admire your work! You indeed have made a difference and in this day and time that is no small accomplishment.

  7. Thank you for all the work you have done. CAAL has been a valued part of keeping up to date for my work. I am sad that it is closing. I am glad to know you will still be working to keep these issues at the forefront. Please let me know where you land and how I can help.

  8. I am so sorry to hear of the coming closure of CAAL as your organization does such wonderful work! Thank you for your many years of labor in the field of adult education. You and your dedicated team will be sorely missed.

  9. I’m very sorry to hear about CAAL’s closing. I’ve just gone through a similar situation. I was the Literacy Services Director for Baltimore Reads and we had to close in July due to funding issues. I hope you’ll find good opportunities to apply your expertise.

  10. The end of one era and the beginning of a new one! I want to thank you, Gail, for your many, many years of advocacy to advance adult literacy in the United States, through BCEL and through CAAL. I’m very glad to hear that you plan to continue to take on special projects and look forward to continuing to hear your voice and see your new projects bear fruit.

  11. Gail, I’m very sorry to hear about the closing of CAAL. You’ve had an incredible run. Let me know if you’d ever like to explore a collaboration with the LAC.

  12. Gail, thank you for your amazing services to the adult literacy community in the U.S. through BCEL and later on by the work you and your staff carried on through CAAL. You have been a tireless and passionate national advocate for the cause of adult literacy, a great supporter of good efforts in this field, and a brave voice in pointing out where you saw problems or deficiencies. As I began to read your note, I started to feel sad about losing another great institution that our field has relied on for so many years. However, reading your hopeful ending paragraphs and knowing that you are planning to continue your services in different ways, gives me hope, especially knowing that I’ll be still able to call you and benefit from your wisdom for our work on PIAAC. Thank you again and best wishes for you in your upcoming works.

  13. I was surprised to read your note on the closure of CAAL. I can’t imagine how challenging a decision this was for you personally, and given the state of issues here in the U.S. that CAAL focused on. I wanted to reach out and say thanks for the work you all accomplished and for raising the awareness of us all. You suggested you were going into private practice and I am guessing that focus will continue to be on issues of literacy and ESL. Maybe there’s something we can do together to keep these issues in the front of state and local Workforce Boards’ collective minds. The Unified Plan described in the new WIOA Act is, I think, meant to be comprehensive regarding the state of and plans for regional workforces. You can’t do that, in my opinion, without recognition of adult literacy and ESL, as I know you agree.

  14. Congratulations on a job well done. Your tenacity and spirit have been an inspiration to so many of us in a profession that challenges both. I hope you will take time to prop up your feet and reflect on the major impact you have had on our field. It has been a pleasure to know and work with you.

  15. Chapters closing, chapters opening? As CAAL closes, I hope the legacy you leaves warms your heart and soul. I’m sure there’s grief also–you worked and gave more than we know for a good cause. Gail, you made a difference in the world–providing tools to literacy leaders to equip us to better reach, teach, and inspire those in need of our services. You and your staff brought sunshine to the challenges of practice without policy to sustain it, and you worked to articulate national policy that provides resources to enrich students’ learning. You convened great leaders and challenged their thinking, you brought together those of us who shard a passion for educating those most in need, you put people in the same room who had diverse thought and perspective, and asked them to find their common ground where they could leverage strategies and resources to provide the field with a stronger foundation. You encouraged dialogue and understanding. The tapestry of my professional career is woven with many of those voices, because of CAAL. You made a difference! Our world is better because of your work, your beliefs, your passion, and your warrior spirit. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for your many years of advocacy for adult literacy and education. I was lucky to serve with you on the Literacy Definition Committee for the National Adult Literacy Survey 25-plus years ago(!). You have helped me discern the two steps forward and recover from the dispiriting one step back (which sometimes felt like two or more). I’m looking forward to our continued work together.

  17. I was surprised when I saw your September 8th blog that CAAL would be closing by the end of the year. You and the staff at CAAL have made such a tremendous contribution to advancing the cause of adult literacy. You’ve definitely “moved the needle”. Your Reach Higher, America report by the National Commission on Adult Literacy brought renewed attention to the critical importance of addressing the adult literacy gap in this country. I am glad to hear that the CAAL website will remain active indefinitely so that the many valuable resources you developed will be accessible. Thank you for your dedication to the work of CAAL these past 15 years and your commitment to adult education and literacy. I hope our paths will continue to cross.

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