Many education debates quickly devolve into false choices among often good, seemingly competing arguments and ideas. We take those ideas and expand them to find solutions that accelerate outcomes and work in various contexts. We've also found that some of best vehicles for our ideas aren't always policy reports or white papers. They can show up in games, multimedia websites, case studies, and toolkits. Take a look at some of our most influential analyses in various formats during the last 10 years.
In the last 10 years, early childhood care and education has enjoyed a significant boost in funding and attention at the local and national level. As practitioners, advocates, philanthropic funders, and policymakers focus their efforts on expanding access to quality early care and education, our team has helped them build the organizational capacity and systems-level supports needed to sustain a thriving sector that serves young children and their families well. We’ve also brought together K-12, early childhood, and post-secondary education leaders to leverage shared expertise and build a more sustainable, aligned pipeline that helps children realize their potential.
We envision a stronger early childhood sector, with a well-trained, well-paid workforce; well-funded, well-run providers; and the public policies, systems, and financing that enable families to access high-quality programs. Currently, compensation and prestige of early childhood workers is low, which means that individuals who complete their early education teacher preparation often end up in jobs that pay less than a livable wage. This has significant equity implications, because 92% of early childhood educators are women and 40% are women of color. However, efforts to increase the qualifications (and, commensurately, pay) could reduce teacher diversity if they are not accompanied with supports for current early educators to earn degrees. Bellwether’s work engages these tensions while maintaining a focus on excellent outcomes for children, especially our nation’s most underserved.
The start of the decade saw a boom in the growth and quality of charter schooling. New school models, teacher and leader support organizations, and new efforts to support student success beyond K-12 appeared. But challenges with funding inequity and school buildings persisted, while new concerns about school discipline and declining public and political support for charter schools emerged. As charter growth slows and the sector matures at the top of 2020, we face knottier questions about how to maintain the progress the sector has made and adjust to changing demographics and politics — while continuing to pursue quality, innovation, and equity for kids.
Educating 3 million students across 7,000 schools, charter schools are a permanent fixture in the education landscape. We have used our experience supporting charter and district leaders, engaging with advocacy and community organizations, and advising policymakers to establish a credible, nonpartisan voice about the potential and drawbacks of this alternative model.
In 2010, few people saw teacher pensions as a costly crisis that would affect nearly every American. More importantly, few realized how poorly pension systems worked for teachers themselves. Since then, teacher strikes over wages, an increasingly unaffordable healthcare system, and a drastically aging population retiring at record rates have all put teacher retirement benefits in the national spotlight. Mentions of teacher pensions in the news have gone from hundreds to thousands in 10 years, and we're proud to have helped lead that conversation, explaining the relationship between growing retirement costs, stagnant teacher salaries, and shrinking school budgets.
Bellwether has been widely published and cited, appearing in the media more than 8,000 times since 2010. We have become a trusted source on education happenings for a wide range of local, national, and education trade outlets. That's because we don’t take organizational stances. Instead, we share diverse data-driven and sometimes divergent opinions from our staff. The dissonance makes our ideas stronger and ensures that you’re always getting fact-based, level-headed, and stress-tested ideas and commentary.
Nuanced Perspectives and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Our team members come to Bellwether with deep, varied expertise in education, having taught in classrooms, been on charter school authorizing boards and charter school boards, served in state and federal government, worked at advocacy organizations, and led mission-driven education ventures. They live in different places around the country, from the South to the Midwest to the Western mountains to both coasts in urban, rural, and suburban communities.
More than a third of our team identifies as people of color, working to create better outcomes for students in underserved communities who often look like them. Others identify as LGBTQ, politically conservative, and as first-generation college students, pushing us to consider solutions that are inclusive of students often overlooked in our field. Some of our teammates are parents, taking active roles in local school issues that impact their children.
Many organizations are at a crossroads regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) — and we are no different. We're wrestling with a number of questions: How do we elevate the diverse voices on our team in a genuine way? How can we push and engage one another on topics of DEI? How can we truly bring a DEI lens to our client partnerships, from our first meeting to our last? With whom do we need to partner and learn from to better interrogate our practices?
Over the last two years, we have pushed ourselves beyond the foundational DEI steps of diversifying our team or having a DEI agenda item during team meetings by advancing a culture of inclusion. Some of this internal work was originally led by team members who are now part of an independent organization, Promise54.
Last spring, led by an internal working group, we partnered with OneTILT, an organization dedicated to promoting inclusivity. To evaluate our progress and gaps, we conducted a staff survey about perceptions of equity and inclusion within our organization and used the results to develop a guiding DEI vision statement. This dynamic document is a touchstone for how we own our collective responsibility to create a more equitable and inclusive organization and change systems, policies, and practices within Bellwether.
In some ways, we have made progress, and in many ways, we still have a lot of work to do. But we remain committed to becoming the kind of organization that doesn’t just talk about DEI but breathes it every day.
Bellwether was founded on the principle that it’s not good enough to do great work — you also have to create a great workplace to support your efforts. For us, that means putting a premium on flexibility so our team can support clients and the field while making life decisions that make sense for them. Flexibility, trust in people to get the work done, good benefits, and a mix of identities, ideas, and geographies make us unique and give us a competitive edge.
On a scale of 1 to 10 about whether they would recommend Bellwether to a friend, our team averages 9.5, and our staff also report feeling challenged, interested, and recognized in their work. All this is part of why Bellwether was named one of Washington, D.C.'s 50 best places to work by Washingtonian magazine.
Bellwether by the Numbers
There's no shortage of nonprofits and consultants interested in education. That makes it difficult to stand out, have something new and interesting to say, and manage to keep the lights on. Luckily, when we started Bellwether 10 years ago, we had a group of founding partners with decades of experience and long-lasting, trusted relationships.
We are thrilled to now have a staff of over 60 people who have worked on more than 800 projects since 2010. We're grateful to our clients, philanthropic partners, and Bellwarians (old and new) who have contributed to building the field's leading education strategy firm.