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Our Mission

Literacy is a fundamental human right.  Through literacy advocacy, trainings, and equitable education practices, SCALE empowers and inspires individuals to become voices of social change within their communities.

About Us

At SCALE, we believe that literacy is more than just reading and writing. Our definition involves critical thinking and action. Increasing literacy skills helps learners achieve their goals and empowers them to be more effective advocates for both themselves and their communities. As a result, literacy is a tool for personal and social transformation and a vehicle for social justice.

We promote a participatory, learner-centered approach to literacy in which the power in the program and in the classroom is shared with learners, volunteers, and community members. Shared decision making–about lesson content, choice of reading materials, or program evaluation–makes our outreach more relevant to individual and community literacy needs.

Furthermore, we invite you to consider, the larger societal contexts of education. How do culture, class, and other “isms” influence our opportunities? Which policies create greater opportunity, and how can we be a voice for those policies?

Throughout this site, we aim to provide information and inspiration to college students, program administrators, and learners in order to address the underlying barriers to literacy.

Our Programs

SCALE supports campus-based literacy programs locally, statewide, and nationally. We work with all types of program models, including:

  • America Reads and America Counts
  • Adult Basic Education
  • Youth Literacy and Mentoring
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • Family Literacy
  • GED Preparation
  • Workplace Literacy
  • Advocacy and Activism.

The college students serving in these programs include volunteer/paid tutors or coordinators, AmeriCorps members, VISTA members, and service-learning students.

Our Services

SCALE provides a full range of technical assistance and support to campus-based literacy programs. Our services include:

  • The Read. Write. Act. National Conference
  • On-site trainings for members or affiliates
  • A Resource Lending Library of print and video materials
  • Discussion lists focused on child literacy, adult literacy, and program management
  • A website rich of online trainings, sample tutor training agendas, SCALE publications, and a searchable database of information and recommended articles and books

History of SCALE

Our History: The Beginning

270th Point of Light

The history of the Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE) begins with its founding in the fall of 1989 when two Carolina undergraduate tutors, Lisa Madry and Clay Thorp, joined forces to mobilize and support college students who wanted to address the literacy needs of this country. Lisa and Clay were inspired by the great tradition of student activism and saw literacy as a social justice issue.

While literacy education interested many students like Lisa and Clay, there was no national organization to support their programs or to network their leaders. Fueled by the belief that young people could have an impact on literacy, become leaders on their campuses, and raise awareness of literacy as a social justice issue, Clay and Lisa founded SCALE.

From its inception SCALE has been at the core of a robust network of campus-based literacy programs that fully involves students and their learners. Over the years, distinctive programs have offered in-depth trainings and resources to program administrators and participants and have provided opportunities for the exchange of information and ideas around the country. Past programs include: Regional Organizers Network, Area Campus Training Project, Literacy Impact, Literacy Action Service Learning Network, Collaborative Leadership for Community Literacy, Student to Student, Project SHINE, Learning to teach, and Learning to Serve.


Today, SCALE sponsors Read. Write. Act., the annual and only national conference conducted specifically for campus-based literacy programs and their community partners. SCALE also promotes National Literacy Action Week (NLAW), the first week of February, in order to increase awareness of our country’s literacy needs and to highlight the crucial role of college students in the literacy movement. Current SCALE programs include America Reads and Counts and a partnership with local campus-based literacy programs such as the Carolina Language Partnership, MANO, and Project Literacy. In addition, SCALE offers a comprehensive Resource Library, training workshop agendas, on-line trainings, and technical assistance for programs around the country.

Why Literacy?

Because it is the foundation for every social justice effort we can and should engage in.

All people need some form of literacy in order to be engaged in the fight for social justice, whether the cause be education, immigration, LGBT issues, women’s rights, economic justice, or racial justice. By supporting the literacy needs of our country, SCALE ultimately provides our communities with the tools necessary to vote according to their beliefs, to speak out about issues that matter to them, and to protect themselves against discrimination. This will ultimately help our children succeed in school as students and in life as citizens.

Literacy skills are vital for a functioning democracy and for individual and group empowerment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most marginalized groups of people are those most likely to be denied access to literacy and education. Educational inequality remains high globally, and the poorest children and women are most likely to be illiterate (UNESCO Global Monitoring Report 2015)

The Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) developed and conducts the Survey of Adult Skills. According to U.S. results from the PIAAC, the U.S. ranked lower than most other countries in the study in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving in technically-rich environments. Where the U.S. does score near the top is in terms of inequality. According to ProLiteracy, more than 36 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third grade level. When adults improve their literacy skills, they can lift themselves out of poverty, lower health care costs, and find and keep sustainable employment.

Literacy is a right in itself and is also an instrument for achieving other rights. But the benefits of literacy ensue only when broader rights and development frameworks are in place and operating effectively (UNESCO).

What Can I Do?


For additional information on why literacy is so important both individually and socially, view a recording of our SCALE webinar, “Why Literacy Matters” (recorded 2/4/17).


Whether or not you formally join SCALE as a member, and whatever work you do, we hope you will champion literacy as a vital cause in helping to create a more just and equitable world for all of us.