A Bellwether Moment

A Bellwether Moment

A Bellwether Moment

A Bellwether Moment

Photos Courtesy Ascend Public Charter Schools and Harmony Public Schools

Bellwether 2017

Letter from Mary

Bellwether was founded in 2010 with the vision of a world in which race, ethnicity, and income no longer predict life outcomes for students. There were four of us here at the beginning, all education leaders with expertise in strategy, policy, and organizational effectiveness. Using our skills, we wanted to help education organizations accelerate impact and improve public policy and practice so that all children have access to high-quality schools. And we sought to build a nonprofit where we’d all be proud to work.

Fast forward seven years to 2017: Our staff has grown, and we’ve served over 386 clients and counting! While a lot has happened in that time, what hasn’t changed are our core values and commitment to quality, cutting-edge solutions to the most long-standing and complicated challenges facing the education sector.

Our work centers on five service areas:

  1. Policy analysis and research
  2. Strategy and growth planning
  3. Organizational effectiveness and efficiency
  4. Implementation support
  5. Educational program evaluation

I hope you’ll enjoy reading our story! Feel free to contact us to learn how we can help your organization achieve dramatic results for the students and educators you serve.

Mary K. Wells, Co-Founder and Managing Partner

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

What We Do

Photo Courtesy Harmony Public Schools

idea icon  Policy & Thought Leadership

Our Policy and Thought Leadership practice works to shape the broader education landscape by conducting policy analysis, research and writing, and idea generation, and by advising education entities on policy and public affairs.

Our publications have a deep influence across the education sector.

Policy and Thought Leadership team

Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership team also created this simple video to help break down a complex education policy debate:

Here are some of our other projects:

Better Blogging for the Education Sector

Not all education blogs are equal in their reach or quality. Some receive thousands of daily visitors, while others — including those that reflect important and underrepresented viewpoints — get a few hundred or fewer. On some, the writing is crisp and accessible; on others, good ideas are lost in overheated rhetoric, jargon, or cumbersome prose. While the profusion of blogs allows fresh voices to join the debate, the volume of information available online about education makes it difficult to stand out.

Bellwether has worked to change this over the past four years through our highly popular Better Blogging & More trainings. Our free sessions aim to equip emerging education voices with the skills to write and spread good ideas to improve education for this country’s underserved students.

Marilyn Rhames photo
The Better Blogging seminar greatly improved my writing. I am blogging more concise, poignant pieces, and my voice as a teacher has gained greater confidence.”
— Marilyn Rhames, Blogger at Education Post and alumni support manager at a Chicago charter school

Bellwether also publishes three influential blogs of our own:

eduwonk logo

Eduwonk - by Bellwether Partner Andy Rotherham

ahead of the heard logo

Ahead of the Heard - Bellwether’s group blog

teacherpensions.org logo

TeacherPensions.org - which focuses on retirement options for educators

See our most-read publications and blogs in 2017 — covering teacher turnover, school transportation, rural education, and much more.

teacher icon  Strategic Advising

Our Strategic Advising practice works with leading education organizations on their most pressing strategic and operational issues. We partner to create bold but achievable plans while ensuring that leaders and stakeholders align on the path forward.

Read more in the examples below:

the strategic advising team
graduating student

Photo Courtesy Ascend Public Charter Schools

Case Study: EL Education

For the first 20 years of its existence, EL Education — formerly Expeditionary Learning — focused on comprehensive school reform partnerships with new and existing schools. The team developed a robust vision for teaching and learning, with coaching and professional development.

Then about five years ago, EL wanted to broaden its impact in the education sector — without sacrificing quality. The questions they faced were similar to those that many of our other partners face: How do you scale impact and best serve student outcomes in a financially sustainable way? How do you manage change when you’ve done something really well for a long time and you want to leverage a new opportunity?

Austin kid

Photo Courtesy Harmony Public Schools

How Do You Win Federal Education Grants?

The U.S. Department of Education announced last fall that it would award a $27 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant to our client, Harmony Public Schools, over the next five years. Bellwether is honored to have partnered with Harmony on developing its human capital strategy and vision for the grant, and we’re thrilled to see such a substantial investment in its vital work for kids.

Lina Bankert and Stephanie Wilson Itelman led this work for Bellwether, and they shared their knowledge around developing federal education grant proposals; what differentiates a successful application; and how you can win highly competitive, much-needed funding for your organization.

Wells Branch School

Photo Courtesy Harmony Public Schools

Entrepreneurial Support: Helping Innovative Education Start-Ups

Bellwether has a strong track record of identifying gaps in the education sector and supporting entrepreneurs and start-up organizations to address them. Co-Founder and Managing Partner Mary Wells shares advice for education entrepreneurs and the one thing every start-up needs to know.

Who We Work With

Bellwether partners with the most diverse cross-section of education organizations of any education consulting firm — from charter schools and CMOs to school districts, boards of education, early childhood programs, foundations, advocacy organizations, and more. Our deep and broad network enables us to quickly access expertise and experience on myriad issues.

Since Bellwether’s founding, our clients have come from many different points on the political spectrum, including the American Prospect and National Education Association Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and EdChoice. Our ideological diversity allows us to bring rich perspectives to our work.

Mark Conrad
Bellwether is sharp and clear in their thinking, articulate in communication, and rigorous in their thinking about the work and approach to the collaboration. Bellwether brought a practitioner lens — the folks that we worked with had all been educators — and a pragmatism to the conversation that was great. It felt like they got us from a mission standpoint. I would absolutely recommend Bellwether to others.”
— Mark Conrad, EL Education
Google, National Association of Chapter School Authorizers, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, EL 25, City Year, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Louisiana Department of Education, Mastery Charter Schools, Educate 78, The Walton Family Foundation, KIPP, American Achieves, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, STAND for children, Nevada Department of Education, San Francisco Public Schools, Fulton County Schools, YES Prep Public Schools, Teach For America, One Goal, Richmond Public Schools, Rocketship, Ingenuity Prep, Achieve Atlanta, ACT, Unbound Ed, Tennessee Score, National Math + Science Initiative, Rhode Island Department of Education, Idea Public Schools, Urban Teachers, Great Oakland Public Schools, Achievement Network, Los Angeles Unified School District

Who We Are

At Bellwether, we are brought together by passion and a common purpose. We do this work because we know that when our clients succeed, more kids receive an education that puts them on track for a life of choices and self-determination.

Our team comprises experienced leaders with decades of hands-on experience as teachers, founders, nonprofit and district executives, strategy consultants, operations managers, and organizational development and coaching practitioners. Individually and collectively, the people at Bellwether offer remarkable ideas, skills, and talents to help build the education field in a way that delivers superior solutions and results.

Bellwether is simply a great place to work. Watch our staff talk about why:

See our open positions here.

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.

Together, we are:


We are dedicated to dramatically improving outcomes for underserved students and students of color. We direct our unwavering focus on quality toward successful outcomes for our clients.


By actively seeking and hiring talent with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and maintaining an environment where divergent ideas and perspectives are freely expressed, we increase our collective ability to deliver thoughtful, relevant solutions and analyses for our clients and the education sector. We value many forms of diversity and believe race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic issues play an especially acute role in the education sector and, consequently, our work.


Bellwether takes our mission seriously, but we try not to take ourselves as individuals quite so seriously. We do challenging work, and we know how to have fun. From jumpsuits and talent shows at retreats to PowerPoint presentations on werewolves and vampires at team meetings, we embrace our individuality.


Although we maintain offices in D.C. and Chicago, many of our professionals work where they have built their lives, thereby enabling us to operate in ways that feel most productive and do more of what we love doing on our own time.

Read more about our core values.

Bellwether by the Numbers

Since 2010
Bylined Reports
Op-Eds and Press hits


Strategic Plans Developed

Staff based in Dubuque, IA |Washington, DC|San Francisco, CA |Rochester, NY|Portland, OR |New York, NY|Los Angeles, CA|Kennebunk, ME|Kansas City, KS|Houston, TX|Gettysburg, PA|Denver, CO|Chicago, IL|Charlotte, NC|Boston, MA|Charlotte, NC|Baltimore, MD|Kansas City, MO

map of united states

Top hobbies include cooking|writing|travel|music|yoga|reading|cycling|running|time spent with family|watching movies|hiking|fishing

Staff have a combined total of
...and a combined total of
have taught/tutored in the past
currently teach or tutor