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Our team blogs regularly on a broad range of topics related to education reform and provides a blend of leading-edge perspectives. One of Bellwether’s greatest strengths is that diversity of viewpoint is encouraged among the partner team and throughout the organization. Everyone at Bellwether is committed to dramatic improvements in our public education system, but internally there are different views about how to accomplish that work. As a result, the views expressed in these blogs should be considered to be those of the writers rather than organizational viewpoints of Bellwether or of any organizations or individuals with whom Bellwether works. Likewise, outgoing links do not constitute any type of endorsement of other websites or organizations.

Ahead of the Heard

The Bellwether team blog, Ahead of the Heard, features regular commentary, analysis, and original insights from our staff.

Bellwether Education Partners

In celebration of National Intern Day on July 28, we asked Bellwarians to reflect on the valuable lessons they’ve learned through past (and present) internships.  Gage Matthews, summer 2022 intern, Policy and Evaluation  My Bellwether internship has been incredibly valuable for learning about career paths, interacting with diverse teams of skilled and influential professionals, expanding […]

The post Celebrating National Intern Day appeared first on Ahead of the Heard.


Andrew Rotherham provides education news, analysis, and commentary through his widely read blog, 


Happy August. I spent most of July in Alaska, which was fantastic and I have a freezer full of wild fish (it’s Friday so fish content). That’s why light posting. Posting will be intermittent in August as well. For now, a few things including, what does my Virginia state board appointment mean for the blog? Dave Chappelle and young adults. Stephen Carter on the Kennedy case. Fishing and data. Jobs. And the Pan Mass Challenge.

Last one first. Today I’m making my way to Boston for some work stuff then out to Sturbridge for the Pan Mass Challenge. A depressing aspect of this blog is the number of colleagues whose too soon passing I’ve noted here, generally because of cancers. That’s one reason, among too many, I try to raise a lot of money each summer for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, an amazing place I hope you never need. I’ll ride my bike across much of Massachusetts this weekend, 192 miles from Sturbridge out to Provincetown. We’ll raise $66 million for Dana-Farber (100 percent of rider-raised dollars go right to Dana-Farber). If you want to be part of it, I would welcome your support. You can learn more and donate here. Even if you don’t have New England ties, remember that cancer research anywhere helps people everywhere because of how treatment protocols work. DFCI is doing pathbreaking work.

We’re hiring at Bellwether for multiple roles, including chief of staff roles, a director of knowledge management, and a really cool project manager job. Learn more here.

Also from Bellwether:

Some quick housekeeping since I haven’t done this in a while and have some new readers. You can read the blog here, or you can subscribe – for free – at Substack to get it in your email box. I am no longer supporting the Google feed because they are not supporting that tool and one day it will just stop. So if you want Eduwonk via email, head to Substack.

Busy session for education at the Supreme Court. I wrote about Carson earlier in the summer. The Kennedy case is more muddled in terms of what it means for schools and policy.

Washington’s Duke Ellington school was going to name its auditorium after local kid and alum Dave Chappelle. That became controversial after “The Closer” and Chappelle had a contentious meeting with students. You can Google all the details. But I’d recommend this short Netflix special he posted in July – “What’s In A Name?” –  about his subsequent talk to the school announcing the name of the auditorium. It’s a master class in treating young people like adults, while at the same time recognizing they are not. It’s also a powerful advertisement for schools like Ellington.

Also out now on video…Earlier this year Education Board Partners convened a few education folks (me, Mia Howard,  Derrick Mashore, and Kimberly Smith) to talk about innovation and charter schools. You can watch, here.

I’m going to serve again on the Virginia Board of Education. What does that mean for the Eduwonk blog?

I’ve said over the years this blog is not a real time readout of everything I work on, conversations, what’s going on, gossip. I could write that blog or newsletter, yes. And I suspect it would be a smash hit. For about three weeks. Right up until everyone stopped talking to me and Bellwether went out of business.

So of course there is a filter. My commitment remains the same. I never knowingly pass along bad information or mislead. I choose not to write about some things because of conflicts, confidentiality, or other similar reasons. I don’t have time to write about everything anyway. And conversations and emails with me are confidential unless other people choose otherwise. I’m an analyst, I’m not a reporter. Virginia has good transparency laws so for the most part, with a few understandable exceptions, board business is conducted in public and you can follow along that way. 

I will continue to either disclose conflicts or just not write about certain things. Years ago when I was working for Brian Kelly writing for U.S. News – a savvy magazine editor with old school sensibilities – I asked him one day over lunch for his advice on managing conflicts given that I wrote about the sector and also did a lot of work in it. He said, simply, “Don’t. Andy, there are so many things to write about in education, write about those.” His point, just lay off the untenable stuff, is great advice I’ve stuck to and will continue to. So expect disclosures and transparency and keep sending me good tips!

Fishing is data. Really, you shouldn’t even have to take PTO if you want to go. Thanks to reader Steve Rees for this:

Teacher Pensions, a project of Bellwether Education Partners, provides high-quality information and analysis to help stakeholders – especially teachers and policymakers – understand the teacher pension issue and the trade-offs among various options for reform.


If Mississippi leaders are looking for ways to improve teacher compensation, here’s one idea that wouldn’t cost them any money: Give K-12 teachers the same retirement plan options that faculty members at the University of Mississippi already have.

In Mississippi, both K-12 and higher education employees are automatically defaulted into the same defined benefit pension plan run by the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS). Members have to stay eight years to vest and qualify for a benefit upon reaching retirement age. Like other traditional pension plans, benefits are awarded through a formula tied to the member’s salary and years of service.

The standard PERS plan is quite costly to employers and taxpayers, but it’s not all that generous to members. According to the plan’s actuaries, who analyze the plan’s finances, the average member earns a benefit each year worth only 1.09% of their salary. (If that seems too low to be true, see page 11 of PERS’ latest actuarial valuation report.)

But wait, how can this be? Overall, PERS employers are contributing 17.4% of each member’s salary. Where is that money going? The difference is explained by the fact that PERS has promised benefits worth $18.7 billion more than it has saved. Like someone carrying a credit card balance, PERS has to pay down those debts, and that contribution eats 16.06% of each member’s salary.

In other words, the PERS pension plan is barely a benefit at all.

Mississippi’s K-12 employees are stuck with the traditional pension plan. But beginning in 1990, the state legislature directed PERS to create another plan. That plan, called the Optional Retirement Plan (ORP), is solely for employees at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and other public colleges and universities across the state.

The ORP plan operates more like a 401k, where employers make contributions toward individual accounts. But unlike a typical 401k in the private sector, where employees are lucky to get a 4 or 5% match, all ORP plan members receive a 14.75% employer contribution directly into their retirement accounts.

Unlike K-12 teachers, Mississippi’s higher education faculty get to pick which of these two PERS plans best meets their needs. The traditional pension plan provides a guaranteed stream of revenue based on the benefit formula, whereas the ORP plan does not. But calculations from suggest that guarantee is not worth that much: A PERS member would need to stay in the plan for 30 consecutive years before their pension would be worth more than their own contributions plus interest.

It’s possible that some very long-serving veterans might receive a better benefit under the PERS plan. But for most participants , the ORP plan is delivering a better deal. Moreover, ORP members qualify for benefits immediately, whereas the pension plan members have to teach for eight years or they won’t qualify for any benefit at all. 

If K-12 and higher education employees are fundamentally different, then it might make sense to offer different retirement plans to each sector. But Mississippi already enrolls most of its education employees across both sectors into the traditional PERS pension plan; the only difference is that higher education employees have the option to leave.

And, even if instructional staff are different across the two sectors, both the K-12 and higher education retirement plans cover many more employees than just those in teaching roles. For example, both plans include secretaries, librarians, janitors, or bus drivers, whose jobs may not look all that different across the two sectors.

As we show in a recent report for, Mississippi is not the only state that offers different retirement benefits for K-12 teachers and higher education employees. If given the choice in Mississippi, some K-12 workers might stick with the traditional PERS plan. But that’s the point. The “right” retirement plan may vary for each individual, and legislators may not be able to design one retirement plan that fits all life patterns.

The math suggests that the ORP plan would provide a better retirement benefit for the vast majority of Mississippi’s education employees. Even if the financial arguments aren’t enough to convince everyone of the merits of the ORP versus the traditional pension plan, K-12 teachers at least deserve to have the same choices as higher education employees already have.

Chad Aldeman is the Policy Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University.

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