For the Town Square Delaware August Education Series, it seemed only natural to reach out to former Governor and Congressman, Mike Castle. In Congress, he was a senior member on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, and a key contributor to improvements of the No Child Left Behind legislation (among other key reforms). As Governor, he was an ardent supporter of improved education – actually visiting every public school in the state and raising teacher pay.
Now, even after hanging his “public servant” hat, his insight into our education systems is a unique one. As a former staffer of his, I saw first hand his genuine focus and dedication to education policy, as well as the value he personally placed on a good education. For all of these reasons and more, I am thankful that he took time out of his day for this special TSD Q & A.
Can you provide a quick summary of where you are now?
I am a partner at DLA Piper, a worldwide law firm. I have offices in Wilmington and DC. I don’t do any lobbying (in fact I couldn’t for at least a year). I speak to our clients about their relationships with the federal government, etc. And like any other attorney, I strive to find new clients. From time to time I still deal with the press on various issues. It is a very full and fulfilling existence.
On a personal note, did you have a favorite teacher?
Not really. I remember teachers as people who could hurt me by giving me bad grades that I would dislike, and that my father would like less. However, the ones I was most afraid of when I was young taught me the most. For instance – Mrs. Buckles my English teacher at Tower Hill – particularly her diagramming of English sentences. It’s probably helped me more than anything in my life. At the time, I don’t think I would have called any of them “favorites”, but in retrospect, I realize what great opportunities they provided for me.
How did participating in sports contribute to your general education experience?
Sports were an important part of my education and development experience. I happened to attend a school [Tower Hill] with very capable teams. As a young person I was also a little faster than average and always played reasonably well. I had very good teammates, and I remember my senior year of high school there were about ten of us who played every sport…almost all of our teams were undefeated. We had great cohesion and comradeship, and had coaches we admired.
I don’t believe people give it as much credit as it deserves – you learn teamwork, development, and discipline. It gives you skills for life. I was always highly appreciative of this opportunity.
My interest in education began in the city of Wilmington as a state representative and state senator. We were underfunded, had to fight for funding to keep schools open and faced other significant challenges.
This interest continued over into my time as Lt. Governor. Once elected, Governor Pete DuPont asked me what I really wanted to do. One of my main goals was improving education. He was kind enough to put me in charge of education task force with a group of private sector individuals. We looked at how to improve schools which triggered my interest in visiting schools. Then, as Governor, I visited every single public school in Delaware to talk to the people first hand. I found common problems at each. When you deal with education, everyone (school board, admin, principals, and parents) says with more money, you can fix problems; Legislators who are dealing with budgets usually disagree. The solution is some combination of these – we need to reduce certain costs, like administrative cost, but get money into classrooms and pay teachers more money. Other key players [aside from finances] in improving education are principals, teachers, family and community (Boys and Girls Club, etc). It concerns me a great deal that many young people don’t understand the importance of a good education because they don’t have the support outside of the classroom.
As Governor, we also spent a good deal of income trying to raise salaries for Delaware teachers, and I felt that was very important. This interest stemmed from one trip to the State Fair. At the fair I actually bought peanuts from a gentlemen who was also a teacher. He told me he felt that teachers were severely underpaid in Delaware. I started my research on that topic, and I agreed with him. Eventually, we were able to make some progress and increase pay.
Lastly, I don’t believe that we have learned as much from charter schools as we can. There are lessons there: is it smaller class sizes? methodology? Some have worked well and others haven’t. Most that have been successful through some combination of great boards and administration. But public schools haven’t learned as much as they can from this model, I believe.
Thoughts on No Child Left Behind (NCLB)? Its successes? What’s next?
In congress, NCLB is sometimes criticized and sometimes praised. Some say the 2014 deadline goal for reaching the achievement goals is unreasonable. But setting standards and reaching them is something everyone grasps. Last Congress, talks were leaning more toward having Governors involved in setting standards. There appears to be no real progress at this point, especially in midst of budget talks. There is a role for federal government to play but education is fundamentally local.
What are you thoughts on Race to the Top and its future?
Race to the top was President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s version of NCLB. Money has been set aside for Delaware, and money is coming in. I have no knowledge as to whether anyone is studying the outcome of this money. [It may be too soon to tell.] My sense is this will probably be the name of legislation to replace No Child Left Behind, since it was essentially the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This will probably look more similar to No Child Left Behind than people think. They will probably focus on this more now that they have gotten rid of the immediate debt ceiling problem.
What are your thoughts on the debt ceiling compromise? Will it have any impact on education?
It was a difficult compromise. Stock market reactions were not good, but better than if we defaulted. I thought it was a reasonably good solution…it was in the middle…no revenue increases in it, and it will not affect Medicare for individuals. It doesn’t call for a lot of hardship.
I also believe that the initial cuts can be done. I’m delighted that there is sharing of that with discretionary programs across the board, including the military. I whole heartedly believe in fully supporting our troops but I believe that there are savings to be found in every department, even the military. Whether it is in weapon systems spending or somewhere else – my sense is that there are savings to be found. Legislators will fight like cats and dogs, as Democrats and Republicans always do, to determine what cuts are right but, they will come to a compromise. I always believed that there isn’t a single government program out there that couldn’t manage some sort of cost cut. The federal government doesn’t do enough belt tightening. Both this administration and the ones before it weren’t tough enough.
I don’t think these cuts will much effect education, because it’s essentially funded at local level.