Gifted Students Have Fewer Allies Than You'd Think, But Can Count on This Billionaire

In recent years, a big buzzword in education has been "gifted students." The term sometimes draws accusations of elitism, conjuring images of frenzied parents of privilege priming hothouse kids for the Ivy League and beyond. However, the National Association for Gifted Children notes that many of the nation's three million gifted kids come from "all cultures, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic groups."

What's more, many of them will never make it to special programs that tap their full potential, and certain gifted education tests "may exclude a selection of students with different cultural experiences and opportunities." The association also mentions that most gifted programs rely on local funding and parent demand, with state and federal funding rarely going to this kind of program.

As far as we can see, not a lot of philanthropic support flows to the gifted student niche, either; this is rarely a topic that's come up in our extensive research on K-12 funders.* 

Who knew that gifted kids were falling through the cracks to such an extent? (And who knew that they have their own national group to lobby on their behalf, not that we couldn't have predicted as much here in Tocqueville's America.)

One wealthy couple that is very much worried about the plight of gifted kids is the billionaire media mogul John Malone and his wife, Leslie.

We've been digging into the couple's philanthropy lately, looking at their big gifts to higher education, as well as conservation and preservation. Much of that giving takes place outside of their Malone Family Foundation. Meanwhile, though, the foundation is laser-focused on secondary education and was founded "to improve access to quality education—particularly at the secondary school level—for gifted students who lack the financial resources to best develop their talents."

That's right, the Malones—with a $7 billion fortune at their disposal—have, for whatever reason, decided to ride to the rescue of underprivileged gifted students languishing in educational settings designed for merely average students.

And here we should pause to say, good for them, since studies show that smart poor kids are less likely to go to college than dumb kids from affluent families. That's not right. 

To advance its goals, the foundation runs the Malone Scholars Program, which operates at 50 independent schools ("Malone Schools") across the country. These schools include the Chadwick School in Los Angeles, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Caitlin Gabel School in Portland. Between 2000 and 2012, the Malone Family Foundation gradually took a total of 49 schools under its wing, providing perpetual endowments that each school uses for scholarships for talented and qualified students in grades 7 through 12. 

And the foundation has looked beyond traditional school settings, too, trying to reach gifted kids who can't access nearby private schools. In 2013, Stanford University received $5 million to establish the 50th Malone School, Stanford Online School, a full-time accredited independent school for gifted students in grades 7 through 12.

Unfortunately for outside grantseekers, according to its website, the Malone Family Foundation is no longer looking for new schools to fund and is preparing a new phase of its philanthropy. Rest assured, though, that there is plenty of money waiting in the wings and it seems unlikely the Malones will lose interest in this area given the investment they've made. 

In the meantime, grantseekers should remain apprised of the foundation as it develops new education initiatives. The Malone Foundation currently runs the Atypical Development initiative, which looks to fund education centers that work with children with developmental disorders. The competitive initiative gives away seed grants to qualifying centers. The foundation also runs the Malone Schools Online Network (MSON) for its Malone Schools, providing juniors and seniors with additional coursework and curricula to supplement normal coursework. Fifteen Malone Schools currently participate in MSON.

Finally, the foundation has an interest in education research, particularly research on gifted students. They've funded work at various gifted education research centers throughout the country including the Education Program for Gifted Youth at Stanford University, Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at Mary Baldwin College, and the Civic Education Project at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern, among others. What's more, the Malone Family Foundation website has quite a bit of information on the subject.

* Other funders in the gifted student space include the Davidson Foundation and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

Related: Malone Family Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education