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The Source of the Problem

It’s time to get rid of governmental mediocrity and incompetence Published at The Bottom Line

Racism and police brutality are one source of the problems we are facing today, but those problems have been exacerbated by government’s failure to demand excellence in the performance of their employees and their leadership.

If the Minneapolis Police had been properly managed, Derek Chauvin would never have been on duty that day. He’d have been fired years ago.   Chauvin had been written up numerous times with little to no repercussions.  This situation is not unique to the Minneapolis Police Department.   It happens in every major city. Police employment contracts virtually prevent officers from being fired.  It is as hard to fire a cop as it is a teacher and it is impossible to fire a teacher.  Other government workers are equally protected, regardless of performance. 

That comment is not meant to blame unions. It is meant to point out that accountability for one’s actions or incompetence has been systematically removed from most government organizations. Consequently, most of them fail to perform as effectively as they should. We see that in our police departments, in our schools, and in many of the departments of our cities and states. We end up with excessive costs and poor performance.

Unions have three very specific missions; to maximize member compensation, to protect member employment and to improve member working conditions. This is what unions are set up to do and they do it very well. In fact, unions are some of the most effective organizations we have, at achieving their mission. However, those three mission statements say nothing about “protecting citizens,” “providing taxpayers value for money” or “effectively educating children.” As a consequence, we tolerate ineffective and expensive police departments, inefficient government bureaucracies and failing schools. None should be allowed to exist, and all have contributed to the issues we are facing today.

Racism is an insidious disease in our society. So is poverty. Much of the anger we are now witnessing has as much to do with the lack of opportunity, that many in the Black community constantly experience, as it does with systemic racism. Much of this opportunity gap is caused by our failure to effectively educate so many of their children. Poverty has been shown to be the single biggest factor in a child’s ability to succeed in school. It is bigger than race, nationality or gender. However, a disproportionate percentage of our Black citizens, live in poverty. A major reason is because so many of them, and now their children, have or are now attending failing schools. That happens because we tolerate mediocrity in our teachers and principals. The reason for that is because we can’t get rid of those who should not be in the profession. I recognize the vast majority of both our police, teachers and other government workers are competent and caring, but we have tolerated mediocrity and incompetence in these institutions for decades. That tolerance is a cancer and it showed up on the streets of Minneapolis and it shows up in poorly run cities and failing schools. Neither can be acceptable any longer.

George Floyd’s death, though a major loss for his family, need not be a loss for our Nation. It needs to be a clarion call for change. For demanding excellence in our police force, in our government and in our schools. That can only happen if we stop tolerating mediocrity in our Government sector. We need to force a change in culture and accountability. We need police that protect and safeguard our citizens, we need government departments that perform their function efficiently and effectively and we need schools that effectively educate every child. Today, we have none of that.

Black lives do matter. Black children deserve to be able to attend good schools. Black citizens need to feel the same freedom and safety that the rest of us enjoy. Black adults need to have the same opportunity to make a decent living. They deserve to participate in the American Dream. They need a good education, which they will never get if we keep tolerating failing schools, they need a good job which they won’t get without a good education and they need to be able to live in safe neighborhoods, which will require effective police protection.

All of the above is possible, if we address the source of the problem and quit tolerating mediocrity in our police departments, in our government offices and in our schools. It’s time to get rid of mediocrity and incompetence. It’s time to address the source of the problem.

Let’s make sure George Floyd’s death serves at the catalyst for real and positive change. If it does, he will not have died in vain.

Donald Nielsen

Senior Fellow and Chairman, American Center for Transforming Education
Donald P. Nielsen is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Chairman of the Institute's program on public education reform. For nearly 30 years, he has devoted his life work to transforming public education. For two years, he traveled the country studying America's public education system and authored, Every School: One Citizen’s Guide to Transforming Education. Mr. Nielsen was awarded the Harvard Business School's 2004 Alumni Achievement Award. In 2009, he received the Leadership Award from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.