Why Ford Says Yes to This Group Working All Angles of the Ed Issue

When it comes to education, the Ford Foundation takes a holistic approach. It cares about what happens within schools, but it's also keenly attuned to what's happening outside of them, in communities and families.

Which makes total sense. Schools can and should do a better job. And there's no way you can ignore the socioeconomic conditions that influence student achievement. Today's polarized ed debate, which so often pits these two worldviews against each other, is just inane. 

Ford's big investment in extended learning time (ELT) is the chief way it grapples with the whole ed enchilada. The foundation imagines public schools that stretch further—not just by expanding their calendars and teaching strategies, but also by broadening their mandate to engage a range of community stakeholders in creative ways to grapple with all the challenges faced by low-income students. 

Related: Ford Keeps Investing Big in Extended Learning Time

For these reasons, Say Yes to Education is an obvious grantee for the Ford Foundation, which just gave the group a $200,000 grant—on top of two previous grants totalling a half million dollars.

This ed nonprofit was founded by a successful finance guy named George Weiss, who has bankrolled it with tens of millions of dollars.

But Say Yes has also drawn in other funders with a "collective impact" approach to improving schools that it embraced long before that concept became red hot in the brainier precincts of the nonprofit world.

Another way to describe its strategy would be "all of the above." As we recently wrote:

Say Yes has made its biggest investment in New York, focusing heavy resources in the battered industrial cities of Syracuse and Buffalo. In both places, it's pulled every lever it can without letting ideology get in the way. It's pushed for school-based reforms and improvements, including concessions by teachers unions, but has also focused attention on reducing the social and economic barriers to academic achievement. And it has deployed other approaches to helping students, too, such as extended day and extended year programs, school-day academic support, and mentoring and tutoring. Along the way, Say Yes has brought a wide array of stakeholders to the table to figure out how to improve urban education, and cities themselves. 

Ford hasn't been one of the bigger funders behind Say Yes, which has pulled in close to $9 million from the Wallace Foundation. Rather, the foundation has mainly backed Say Yes specifically for its work on extended learning time. 

But who knows. Maybe as Ford streamlines its grantmaking in the coming year (hopefully in a big way), Say Yes will be one of the nonprofits it decides to double down on in the ed space. 

Related: Can Collective Imact Move the Needle on Urban Education? This Funder Wants to Find Out