Donald Nielsen

Senior Fellow and Chairman, American Center for Transforming Education

Donald P. Nielsen is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Chair of the Institute's program on public education reform. He currently serves as Chairman of Lumenal Lighting, LLC., a business he purchased in 2004. Lumenal Lighting is in the commercial lighting business and serves companies, schools, government facilities, and non-profit organizations in the Pacific Northwest.

From 1992 to 2008, Mr. Nielsen concentrated his activities in the field of public education. He traveled the country for two years studying America's public education system and subsequently was elected to the Seattle Public Schools Board. He served on the board for eight years and was President of the Board from 2000 to 2001. During his tenure, Mr. Nielsen and his colleagues oversaw major reforms to the Seattle Public School System that greatly enhanced the educational experience and heightened achievement for students, administrators, teachers, and parents.

Prior to retiring in 1992, Mr. Nielsen was co-founder, President, and Chairman of Hazleton Corporation, the world's largest contract biological and chemical research, and testing company. Based in Vienna, Virginia, Hazleton Corporation concentrated its activities in the life sciences industry, providing industry and government with contract biological, chemical, and immunobiological research services. The Company's clients were the world's leading pharmaceutical, chemical, agri-chemical, medical device, and food companies.

Hazleton Corporation (originally named Environmental Sciences Corporation) commenced operations in 1969 as a $200,000 start-up. When Mr. Nielsen retired in 1992, Hazleton had grown to $165 million in sales and employed 2,500 people in five countries on three continents. In 1983, Hazleton was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and in 1987, Corning, Inc. purchased the Company. Mr. Nielsen remained CEO of Hazleton for five years after the acquisition by Corning.

In addition to his current role as Chairman of Lumenal Lighting LLC., he is a director and co-founder of the National Eating Disorders Association. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the University of Washington Foster School of Business and the Ambassador Board of the University of Washington School of Education.

During his business career, Mr. Nielsen served on numerous corporate and non-profit boards. Corporate boards included Delta Dental of Washington, TeachFirst, and VWR Scientific. Non-profit boards included Junior Achievement, YMCA, The Alliance for Education, The Seattle Foundation, IslandWood, and the Talaris Institute. He also served nine years as a Trustee of Seattle Pacific University.

Mr. Nielsen graduated from the University of Washington where he received a BA degree in Business in 1960. He was elected student body president his senior year at the University of Washington. In 1963, he received an MBA degree from the Harvard Business School. 

He was the recipient of 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. That same year, he received the McNaughton Award presented annually to a Seattle Citizen in recognition of civic leadership.

Mr. Nielsen is married to the former Melissa J. Mounger, and has three grown children and seven grandchildren.


It’s Time to Rethink School

A society is measured by the degree to which it loves, nurtures, and educates its children. Today, we are failing at all three. It's time to rethink school.

Why Do Singapore Students Outperform the Rest of the World?

Research reveals that the most significant influence on student academic achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Singapore has the highest performing children in the world. Is it possible they have the best teachers? What is Singapore doing dramatically different that the U.S. can emulate?

The Source of the Problem

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.

We are Failing Our Children

In 1983, the famous report, “A Nation at Risk” concluded that our country was failing to effectively educate our children. The authors were so critical of our schools that the preamble of the report summarized their findings by saying that; “if an unfriendly foreign power had imposed our schools upon us, we would have considered it an act of war.” That was 1983. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush held an education summit, called “Goals 2000.” Bill Clinton was the chair of that summit. After days of deliberation, another report was issued stating that, “by 2000, all children will enter school ready to learn and 90% of our children will graduate from high school.” Many other goals were listed, none Read More ›

Education System Not Getting Better, Only More Expensive

As Ben Franklin was leaving Independence Hall after the adoption of our Constitution, a lady asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy?” He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Ben Franklin knew that the new country would last only as long as the electorate adhered to the guidelines delineated in the newly adopted Constitution. It was an experiment in self-government and it would not last unless properly protected. The signors of the Constitution also knew that an educated electorate was an essential element. In fact, they initially limited voting to property owners on the assumption that such individuals would possess sufficient knowledge to be an educated voter. Over the decades, we have Read More ›

A Message from Don Nielsen

During the summer I completed a revision to my book, Every School. The revision brings all the information up to date and also adds an important new chapter—a detailed “Game Plan” for a state. I believe the only way we will transform our schools is to change the governing state laws and this chapter gives state legislators and Governors a game plan on how to start and accomplish the transformation of their schools. The highlight of the last few months was the hiring of a new program coordinator, Bailey Takacs. Bailey comes to us with a lot of experience in legislative matters and with a passion for education. He is already making a huge difference in our ability to do Read More ›

Separate Students by Achievement, Not Ability

In an article published on Aeon, Oscar Hedstrom suggests that tracking, measuring a student’s ability to learn (i.e. ranking students as above average, average, or below average) is not a good idea. The author is right. If you believe every child can learn, as I do, then you need to take into account where a child is in their learning. Rather than tracking, what I propose in the updated version of my book Every School is simply giving kids who are behind in their learning more time (longer day and longer year) and smaller class sizes with the best teachers. That is, give them the opportunity to catch up quickly so they can rejoin the others. This is not tracking; Read More ›

What We Do: Transforming Our Schools

Here at the Discovery Institute’s, American Center for Transforming Education (ACTE) we focus on system change rather than focusing on improving the present system.  We do that because, for decades we have tried dozens, if not hundreds, of reform ideas without any material improvement in student outcomes. We have also tried to improve schools by dramatically increasing the amount of money we spend on education.   Again, the results have not been forthcoming.  Basically, we have learned that reforming a failed system yields a reformed failed system.  We have also learned that putting more money into a failed system simply gives you a more expensive failed system.      The current system is obsolete and no matter how much we tweak it Read More ›