We are considering applying for BSI, and even though chances are slim this year since they will prioritize 40% of the seats to lower income families it is our nearest citywide G&T program. Lately on some of the forums I have read that the quality of education at BSI is lagging as compared to even good zoned schools, especially when it comes to math and science and majority of the parents have to tutor their kids. Anyone has any first hand knowledge that they can share?
Not a BSI parent, but I doubt that it would be a laggard compared to any zoned GenEd school. I've found that it is difficult to form an informed, unbiased opinion about the quality of education by reading anonymous comments on the Internet ... who knows what people's motivation are for promoting certain viewpoints, or whether one particularly loud and persistent minority voice can drown out dozens of other quiet ones who stay away from these forums, or whether one just got stuck with a below-average individual teacher in an otherwise great program ...
My view is that all of the citywide or district G&T programs pretty much have the same quality of education as well as the same pool of kids -- I don't really see very much difference between a kid that scores 91 or 95 or 99 on the test.
There are of course differences that you need to be aware, some perhaps in school management but what can you really know until you get there. Also I think there are bigger variations between individual teachers even within the same programs and you don't get to pick who your teacher is so there is always an element of chance. Even if you do get a really good teacher, things like pregnancies can change things as well. So my view on trying to assess the "quality of education" is that no matter where you go there is always an element of uncertainty that you need to be comfortable (at least with public schools, obviously private is a different set of considerations).
At this stage the most important ones for consideration IMO are things like:
1) How far the school is from you. Logistics matter! An extra 5 minutes on your kid's commute (10 minutes per day) equates to around 2,000 minutes per year, or 12,000 minutes over the next six years (K-5). That's 200 hours ... not immaterial. Of course you could always move but then there's a cost element.
2) Whether the school is K-5 vs. K-8 vs. K-12.
3) How much parental support there is. One measure of which would be the avg. PTA contribution per student -- publicly avaliable on DOE's website -- although clearly donating money is not the only way parents can help. For example there are some GenEd schools that raise more money on average than citywide schools and that is probably driven by socioeconomic factors (e.g. rich school districts vs. the socioeconomically diverse citywide school base). But that doesn't necessarily make them better, as any G&T program just by virtue of having a selective student body has its own advantages over GenEd.
In any case, you need to take all of these things into consideration when choosing for your kid.
I am a BSI parent, and can tell you my opinion of the school.
I have experience with district G&T, a well-known charter network school, and with BSI.
Of all the schools mentioned, BSI is certainly above and beyond anything I have seen so far in elementary education. However, no school is perfect and BSI certainly has room for improvement. Besides, there is also a question of compatibility - of school philosophy, child character, and parental aspirations.
What sets BSI apart from others, is a focus on the child's individual development needs. A lot of attention is paid by teachers on discovering each child's learning style and interests.
The philosophy of the school is inquiry-based learning, with the teacher acting more like a facilitator in the learning process, rather than presenter of material, found in other environments. Make sure to read on it before committing to the school, so as to avoid any surprises.
For a self-motivated gifted child it gives a great opportunity to grow
Another HUGE advantage of G&T program in general over zoned one is that a child is surrounded with other kids matching or exceeding his intellectual abilities, making it a fertile environment for development and growth. As the result, there is a natural competition arising, including, but not limited to, things like chess tournaments, Math olympiads, etc.
The parent body at the school is very involved, which creates enrichment opportunities within the school, as well as outside. A lot of information on various events - from inventor competitions, science fairs, to publishing opportunities for aspiring writers, is shared by parents, who generally are very invested in their kids' success.
Regarding tutors, I would say, majority of parents I know hire tutors/tutoring services for either one of the things below:
1. Test preparation for specific test, like SHSAT.
2. To develop a certain child's talent - be it Math, Science, Art, Writing, Dance, etc. - beyond what the school can offer, and/or to build a portfolio for "portfolio" schools.
Both things above are optional, and go beyond what a general school offering is.