Brad Tilden: Helping kids win

I’d like to share the story of a little girl. This little girl was born in Cuba. Her family was forced to flee to the U.S. when she was only three years old, giving up everything—including her father’s career as an education leader. Her mom and dad took jobs in a Miami shoe factory to help pay for schooling. From a humble, new beginning far from home, her parents put education for their children above all else.

This little girl’s story isn’t that different from many working class families in our country today. And it is very close to home for families living in many of the cities in which Alaska flies, especially here on the West Coast.

Our kids’ opportunities and future lives are directly related to how much education they receive and how good that education is. Health, wellness, happiness, standard of living and much more all directly correlate with education. We often hear the word “inequity” applied to social issues, and education in particular. What does that really mean? I think, simply put, that when one person doesn’t receive the same quality of education as another there is inequality and that inequity often continues throughout their entire life. If we really want to do something to help the next generation get off on the right foot, we need to come together and make our schools as good as they can possibly be.

At Alaska, we’re getting involved and trying to make a difference. But this is a big challenge, and if we’re going to move the needle, it’s going to take us all.

Businesses, particularly those in the growing technology field, depend on our schools to give us future employees. The need for students with a good grasp of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is particularly important, yet not all schools are equal in offering the curriculum needed to meet that demand or, even more basic, to keep kids in school.

In Alaska and Washington, one of every four kids fails to graduate from high school. In California, that number is only slightly better. In Oregon, its worse. And these figures are far more dismal for some demographic groups. What’s more, studies show that between 50 and 70 percent of all future job openings will required some post-secondary education, yet only about one-third of our young people are obtaining college degrees.

The bottom line is that today’s system is failing a lot of our kids.

We’ll all be better off, and kids will be way better off, if we fix this situation. Education leads to vibrant economies, where lots of folks benefit and in turn invest in their communities. So we have a vested interest in making the system better (though admittedly, these are investments that do have a long payback period). But the returns are massive, and if we fix our system, the changes will benefit us for many years.

Many organizations have come to the table to help. There are business organizations, education advocacy groups and private foundations, parent-teacher organizations and private citizens–all trying to make a difference. As co-chair of the Mayor’s Education Task Force in Seattle, I am seeing firsthand the passion of parents and educators working together and it gives me a lot of hope.

The fact is that when we work together to focus on education, it makes a difference for our kids. It made a big difference in the life of that little girl I told you about. You may have heard of her… Her name is Ana Mari Cauce and this year she was named president of the University of Washington.

Thanks for joining with us to support education, and thanks for flying Alaska.

Brad Tilden, Alaska Airlines CEO