Sanjiv Rao, Ford Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Educational equity, redesign and scalability of a new school day

CONTACT: s.rao@fordfoundation.org, 212-573-5000

IP TAKE: Think your job's thankless? Rao's responsibility at Ford is to convince teachers, administrators, students, and parents that we need to make both the school day and school year longer.

PROFILE:  Sanjiv Rao completed a bachelor's degree in History at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master's in education from University of California, Berkeley. Rao began his career as an elementary school teacher in California, Texas, and Mexico. His first position in the world of policy was at Brown University's Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

In 2001, Rao moved to the east coast to take a position as executive director of the New York State After School Network.  (He also got married that year, a wedding that made the NY Times, which is an impressive feat.) In 2004, Rao enrolled in a PhD program at NYU's Wagner School of Public Service. While at Wagner, Rao contributed extensively to Leadership for a Changing World (LCW), a joint project between Wagner, the DC-based Advocacy Institute, and the Ford Foundation. LCW "supports community leaders known in their own communities, but not known broadly. The program seeks to shift the public conversation about authentic leadership."

Rao received his PhD in 2013. His dissertation, which "uses qualitative methods to examine how full-service community school models influence the education practices in NYC public schools and implications for hybrid organizations and policy implementation," fits in rather neatly with his work at Ford. More broadly, Rao's doctoral work "focuses on the ways school-community partnerships enable disadvantaged families to access critical opportunities and services."

Here's the Ford Foundation's underlying argument: Our culture has changed significantly over the recent few centuries, while the idea of the six and a half hour school day has not. And it's easy to argue that this short school day contributes to achievement gaps. Not to mention, students in wealthier school districts have greater extracurricular opportunities than those in poor school districts. Instead of heading to their extracurriculars after class lets out, the kids in the low-income school districts are more likely to head home and spend time by themselves, often unsupervised. 

Rao and the foundation encapsulate their mission as attempt to create an educational system of "more and better learning time."  Rao further explains, "More and better learning time is not a reform. It’s changing the environment of the school so reforms can work."

In 2013, public schools in New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Tennessee participated in Ford's longer school day program, adding 300 hours to their school year. Ford pledged $3 million to the project over the next three years to bolster money from other resources both public and private, "in an effort to radically improve learning for tens of thousands of students," according to Ford's press release

Rao has contributed to a variety of single-shot articles and projects, including the Color Lines Project, which aims to keep teachers informed on the history of the Civil Rights Movement. He also gave a presentation as part of a Webinar the Rand Corporation, distributed in 2011, that discusses the phenomenon of "summer learning loss," how it disproportionately affects low-income students, and what policymakers and after-school networks can do to offset it.

Grant seekers with ideas about "paradigm-shift" type innovations pertinent to the way public school systems work should seriously consider submitting a grant inquiry through Ford's website. Ford frowns upon contacting program officers directly, and while it does accept unsolicited inquiries, the foundation forewarns that "in a typical year, less than 1 percent of unsolicited inquiries result in a grant."

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