A Bellwether Moment

Mary K. Wells, Co-Founder and Managing Partner

Mary K. Wells
Co-Founder and Managing Partner
Bellwether Education Partners

Bellwether 2018

Letter from Mary

It's hard to believe that Bellwether is about to turn 10. When we began, we had an idea we thought would add value to the education sector but, like all startups, we knew the test would be what happened once we launched.

When you look at the breadth of the more than 400 clients we have worked with across a wide range of issues—from early childhood education to charter and district school innovation to post-secondary access and success—it's clear that our idea had merit. Education professionals trust us to deliver thoughtful, non-ideological analysis and strategy that are first and foremost about what's best for kids.

All those clients were served by a remarkable, diverse team that brings joy to the work we do, despite its challenges. Education work is sensitive and highly complex, and we approach it with nuanced perspectives through our integrated policy, evaluation, and strategy services; expertise as former practitioners; and an optimism that makes serious work fun.

This report highlights some of the best work we've done in the last year to earn a reputation as a critical friend to our diverse clients. We welcome your feedback and are always excited to explore ways we can help your organization achieve dramatic results for the students and educators you serve.

Bellwether by the Numbers

In 2018
Blog Posts Written
Media Appearances
Schools, networks/districts, and school-serving organizations received direct support
New Clients, growing to 440 since 2010
New Staff, growing our team to 55 across 16 states

We Published 17 reports|1 video game|4 slide decks|3 websites

affinity groups to support different kinds of diversity within our team and build a more inclusive workplace
of new hires are people of color
Times @bellwethered Tweeted to 17,600 followers
number of times professionals mentioned Bellwether on social media each work day
Views of Bellwether Content Across Our Websites Each Month

Policy + Practice Yield Innovative Solutions

Policy and Thought Leadership

Bellwether was founded in 2010 by education experts with consulting, policy, talent, and media experience who believed that stronger education organizations could lead to dramatically better outcomes for underserved students. And while there were consultants who advised education clients and think tanks that produced thoughtful work, few firms focused exclusively on education, and none blended distinct practices of strategic advising and policy analysis together to solve problems.

Today, we continue to pair rigorous policy and program evaluation with informed strategic advising to tackle the education sector's thorniest challenges. This unique approach allows us to identify trends from our work with schools, organizations, and policymakers; find research-backed policy solutions; and realize these insights in real time with clients on the ground. It makes us a bellwether in the field, identifying innovative, stress-tested solutions that are informed by our clients, our research, and our team of education experts. Learn more about our teams, clients, and impact below.

Policy and Evaluation

Policy and Evaluation Leadership team

Our Policy and Evaluation practice conducts public and proprietary research to develop ideas, publish written analyses, and make recommendations that impact education policy and the broader conversation about America's schools. Through high-quality analysis, advising, evaluation, and support services, we help organizations and leaders understand how policies, programs, and practices affect their work so they can improve outcomes for underserved students.

Evaluation 2018 Team

Building an Evidence Base for Research

In 2018, our evaluation team worked with 20 education organizations and schools to help them evaluate their impact. We approach each project with our unique set of expertise in research and organizational capacity-building to help organizations learn tailored information about their programs and understand what works, for whom, and why. Read how we customized our evaluation design to be responsive to one nonprofit's most pressing questions.

Read the Article


A choose-your-own-adventure-style video game based on real stories from students puts players in the shoes of disrupted youth who balance academics, finances, health, and wellness while striving for their high school diploma.

Play Rigged
Design Methods for Education Policy

Design Methods for Education Policy

Inspired by the fast-paced and forward-thinking world of private sector product design, Bellwether developed Design Methods for Education Policy, a first-of-its-kind website that marries human-centered design with education policy to revolutionize how legislators and researchers approach problem-solving in the education sector.

Visit Design for Ed Policy
Overview of the History and Status of Teachers' Unions

Overview of the History and Status of Teachers' Unions

Teachers' unions are a powerful force in local, state, and federal politics, and the ruling in Janus vs. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) might change that. In this comprehensive slide deck, we offer an accurate and objective set of information about this historic case, including an overview of the history of public and private sector unions dating back to the early 1900s and current data and information on the nation's two largest teachers' unions.

View the Slides

Strategic Advising

The strategic advising team

Our Strategic Advising practice advises leaders and organizations on their most pressing strategic and operational issues, from supporting entrepreneurs through business plan development to partnering with established organizations on growth and performance improvement to assessing new opportunities for impact as the field evolves. Our work helps effective organizations grow to help more students and generate practices that can be adapted by others and, ultimately, inform good policy.

Tresha Ward

Meet an Academic Advisor

Meet Tresha Ward, academic advising senior advisor. Read about Tresha’s experience as a first-year school principal and the advice she and our academic advising team have shared with nearly 50 school clients. Their work includes executive coaching of school and network leaders, working with school leadership teams to establish stronger teacher and leader coaching systems, supporting schools in developing a comprehensive approach to school culture, and facilitating professional development to support capacity building.

Meet Tresha
Talent Pipeline

Understanding the Talent Pipeline

Teacher and leader pipelines are a focus of the education community. But what exactly is a talent pipeline? Where does it start, and where does it end? We built a simple visual to break it down.

Read the Article

Hear How School Leaders Served More Students

Hear from school leaders in our 2018 Washington, D.C. Strategic Growth Institute about how this program helped them build a roadmap to serve more students.

Watch the Video

Ideological Diversity Makes Us the Critical Friend

Bipartisan support for education reform is waning, and education advocates, like the rest of the country, are increasingly entrenched in siloed political camps. We remain committed to diverse viewpoints and experiences within and around our organization reflecting the broad population American public schools serve. This commitment comes from a place of humility — the problems vexing American education are complicated, and the evidence seems pretty clear that no faction has it figured out. For this reason, we don't take organizational positions, and we work with a broad variety of clients who are committed to dramatically changing student outcomes. This allows our team to write regularly and maintain editorial control over publications carrying their name or the Bellwether brand. Whether you're reading an op-ed, blog, or publication from our team or getting our advice or analysis, you're getting work that is stress-tested by education experts with differing opinions but a united vision for excellence.

Image of Mohammed Choudhury

Interview with Mohammed Choudhury

We sit down with Mohammed Choudhury, San Antonio schools' Chief Innovation Officer, to have a candid conversation about integration, choice, and power in a traditional school district.

Read the Interview
USA Today Logo

Bellwether in USA Today

We talked with USA Today about teacher pension, benefits, and Social Security — and how all these affect the conversation about teacher pay.

Read the Article
Carnegie Logo

Addressing Fragmentation

We partnered with the Carnegie Corporation of New York and a number of leading education practitioners to address fragmentation among organizations and service-providers working on behalf of students on the margins. In addition to creating our empathy-building game, Rigged, and the Design for Ed Policy toolkit, our strategy, policy, and evaluation teams are working together to advise three jurisdictions (Utah State Board of Education, California's El Dorado County, and Orleans Parish, Louisiana) on developing comprehensive plans for effective multi-agency coordination that mitigate the effects of fragmentation when students experience disruptions to their education.

Read the Article

Diverse Practitioners Build the Best Solutions

We don't espouse "one right way" to improve schools or do education. Our team's diversity of backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives brings nuance to complex problems and drives our ability to reach the best possible answers for our partners and the field.



Our staff shared insights and analysis in our #BWtalkstalent blog series, pulling from nearly 10 years of supporting strong teacher and school leader pipelines in policy and practice. Topics ranged from trauma-informed teaching to principal satisfaction to retaining teachers of color.

Can We Talk? Film by Kendall Moore

Diversity in Education

Our colleagues write about being LGBTQ in higher education, how "America Has Always Used Schools as a Weapon Against Native Americans", and how diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives actually impact those of us who identify as "diverse".

Can we Talk?

Leveraging the Best of Bellwether

Many policies and programs in the last 25 years have drastically changed the education landscape and offered better educational opportunities for kids. Four areas that continue to offer outsized potential are charter schools, early childhood education, post-secondary education, and efforts to improve the teacher pipeline. We have deep, cross-team expertise in and a proven track record of supporting organizations across the field on these issues, and we are leveraging what sets us apart — our approach, our network, our expertise, and our values — to bring diverse actors together, spot opportunities across the sector for synergy, and drive the conversation around these issues in ways that no other organization can.

Eight Cities graphic

Systems of Schools

Eight Cities tells the stories of how eight U.S. urban districts have seen more students attending more effective schools at a faster pace than other urban districts. In Oakland, D.C., Denver, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Camden, and Chicago, education leaders have increased the number of high-performing schools and set up systems that continuously improve.

Visit the Eight Cities Site
Report Infographic

Teacher and Leader Pipelines

Bellwether produced six reports on improving the teacher and leader pipeline during the past year. From understanding why high-performing teachers leave the classroom, to identifying the potential effects of the Janus v. AFSCME decision on unions and teachers, to decoding teacher retiree benefits and its mounting stress on district budgets, we served as a fact-base for the national conversation about teacher pay and satisfaction.

Read the Reports

Beyond K-12

Bellwether has worked to bridge early childhood, K-12, and post-secondary education policies to create rich, aligned learning systems that meet students' needs along the course of their full education journey. In the past year, we produced three reports on early childhood workforce issues and advised clients on making publicly funded early childhood programs more effective. We were also one of 24 organizations selected among 240 applicants to receive a grant from P2Tomorrow to explore how to bring local communities together and get more kids to and through a post-secondary program that works for them.

Read the Reports

What our clients say

Bluum Logo

Bellwether's analysts helped us make the case for Idaho to provide fairer funding for public charter school facilities. This has long been a pain point for Idaho’s expanding charter school sector, but with Bellwether's insights and recommendations, we are counting on making legislative gains in 2019. Bellwether helped us identify and share the facts about charter school facility financing in ways that work for our 22,000+ children who attend a public charter school.

Terry Ryan
chief executive officer, Bluum
NCS Logo

The Bellwether team were excellent partners with us during our strategic planning process. Their pushes and thought partnership during the process were invaluable. We were impressed by their research and quick synthesis of a large amount of data, which allowed them to understand our model quickly and help us communicate it clearly. We were able to hit the ground running with our plan, new organizational chart, and leadership structure.

Sarah Duncan and Jacquelyn Lemon
executive directors, Network for College Success, The University of Chicago
Longview Logo

There isn’t another word to describe my experience with Bellwether Education more than 'extraordinary'! True to their billing, a better leader I have become. Due to Bellwether Education's codification of my skills and vision through an exceptional professional model, my practices as an educational leader will be replicated throughout seven schools within my school district, extending my impact on student achievement. Thank you for building my leadership capacity! In my 30-plus years in education, I have never worked with such an amazing and super-smart team of individuals.

Dr. Cynthia Wise
principal, Longview Independent School District
YOC Logo

Partnering with the Bellwether team provided us the expertise and technical assistance we needed to capture the work of our program while determining how to move the work forward as our 80+ schools unify under one local school district. The experience was rewarding and very insightful. During the in-person visit, rather than presenting themselves as outsiders, the Bellwether team genuinely joined with our team in a way that allowed us to align our knowledge and experience with their skills and expertise. Ultimately, they worked with us to develop a Theory of Action that depicts our work in a manner that's easy to communicate and clearly illustrates our intended impact. The entire process was such a learning experience.

Angela Wiggins
executive director, Youth Opportunity Center at Recovery School District

Bellwether was invaluable in helping us to craft an organizational outcomes-focused logic model to support and frame our development activities. Now we feel more confident as we share our program approach with potential funders.

Judi Urquhart
director of development, National Indian Education Association

What does Twitter say?

Together we value

Mission Mindset

Tailored Excellence



Diversity & Inclusion


No Drama

Read more about our core values.

Bellwether takes its mission of serving educators, students, organizations, and communities seriously. But we try not to take ourselves as individuals quite so seriously. That's why we maintain offices in several cities but also have a vibrant virtual work environment that allows our team to live their lives where and how they want while still contributing to our mission. Our team members can lead full, healthy lives outside of work and consequently bring their best thinking to their clients and colleagues. Though we live and work all over the country, our core values keep us grounded with a shared sense of purpose and community. Our work, driven by these shared values, is clear, consistent, and credible. And our clients can tell the difference.

Our Board

Bellwether's board of directors brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from a range of sectors. The board plays a critical role in the task of setting strategy, overseeing our work and governance, and ensuring that we can meet the ambitious goals we set for ourselves.

Board of Directors