Several of the comments are excerpted below, and I'd like to hear from more families. If you used to have your kids in Seattle Public Schools, but don't anymore, tell us why. What could convince you to come back? And what could have prevented you from leaving?
As far as I can tell, the district has done little or no research on why parents choose private instead of public. I've heard from a couple of different sources that next year might be particularly bad -- e.g. I was told that some private schools have claimed that private middle school applications were up over 50% this year! (I have no idea if that data is valid, but anecdotally, I know many active public schools families that have decided to go private... more than I've ever heard of before.) I think a little research in this area will turn up some very clear deficiencies in the system that can and should be addressed.
In regards to why people go private, I am guessing that there are many reasons, but I will tell you our story. When our son went to kindergarten we lived in the Central area, and our neighborhood school was Leschi, which at that time was a dismal choice (for us). We liked Montlake, Stevens and McGilvra, but had heard that it was almost impossible to get your student into these schools if you didn't live in the neighborhood. In fact that year Stevens filled all of their kindergarten seats with sib's and were not able to take even one new family! We felt forced to either move to a different part of the city or go private. Though it was a hardship for us, and against what we believed in we went private for two years, until we moved to the NE part of Seattle, and transferred into public school. This year we applied for our son to go to Eckstein, our neighborhood middle school (2 miles away), and he didn't get in. He is on the waitlist. We don't think that Summit, AS1 or Hamilton are good fits for our son, and can't comfortably afford private. So, we enrolled him at Kellogg MS in Shoreline, they had space for us and we are not even in their district. They have 690 kids, rival Ecksteins academics (test scores), have a fabulous band, full year science at all grade levels, honors classes in all 4 core subjects (self elected), and every student gets an ibook laptop. We were very impressed, and are taking full advantage. While I would not like to see choice go away, I do think that families need some type of predictability. We will probably have to stay in Shoreline for High school too. One of the reasons we chose this neighborhood was so our son could go to Eckstein and Roosevelt. We didn't get into Eckstein, and it looks like we won't be able to get into Roosevelt either. We live 2.18 miles away from Roosevelt, but according to enrollment services this year, you had to live within 1.81 miles of the building to get in. Our only other neighborhood HS is Hale, and they don't have a great band program (very important to my son), and no AP classes. So off to Shoreline we go, or private perhaps. Either way, Seattle has lost us.
I can contribute to why the school district loses so many middle schoolers - at least in NE Seattle. For the most part, everyone I know in public is very happy with their neighborhood elementary school. The problem I've heard is people like Eckstein, but they don't like how HUGE it is. They are satisfied with Eckstein caliber, but what I've heard over and over is some kids do great at Eckstein, but at the very vulnerable age of middle school, if your child is very quiet/not really social, they will become lost there. I know a number of families who pulled their kids out of Eckstein and sent them to private middle school with the full intention of sending them to public again for high school. As a mom of young elementary, I only hear the stories. I've heard some scary/intimidating ones, but I've also heard very positive stories. Most of the positive stories come from parents of very social children. I know families who Eckstein fits for 1 of their children and not the other.I know a number of families who went private for elementary school, not because they were unhappy with their neighborhood schools, but because they didn't want to worry about the Middle school issue because of stories they'd heard, and thus prefer the K-8 model. I plan to evaluate Eckstein for each of my 3 children when the time comes (we live .93 miles away, so I'm not worried about not getting in that one). I'm personally hoping there is change and improvement before then. I don't even want to think about the Roosevelt issue yet (if we can't get into a high school that we live 2 miles away from, there is an issue somewhere).