In Louisiana, Families Ignore F Grade on Vocational Charter School

As several states reconsider their A-F school rating programs, debate has intensified over what these grades actually mean to parents who view them — and sometimes the results are surprising. Despite having received an F grade, enrollment is growing at the Career Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as parents are not discouraged by the school's rating and have decided to keep their children at the school, according to Charles Lussier of The Advocate.

Parents recently learned through a letter that their children were attending an F school, and as a result, would have the option of going elsewhere. According to Principal Melissa Bergeron, only three parents called to inquire what an F grade is. After Bergeron explained the F grade, "all of them decided to keep their children at the school."

"Really they were just looking for clarity," the principal said. "They were just trying to understand what it was saying."

Enrollment is growing at the school despite an F grade during both of its first two years of operation and its score declining from year one to year two. Enrollment at the school grew to 270 this year from 230 in 2012.

The academy is a slightly different from a traditional high school. Unlike a traditional high school, Career Academy prepares students for jobs, particularly jobs available to those with the a vocational credential.

Students at the school can earn industry training and certifications in welding, automotive repair, health care, culinary arts and scaffolding.

The federal No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, requires public school districts to identify students in the lowest performing schools and offer to pay to transport them to better performing schools in other parts of town. However, if the schools they "choose" get an F, the option parents are given is one they've had from the beginning: to return to their neighborhood school that draws from the attendance zone in which they live.

In 2012, there were 14 neighborhood schools with an F grade in Baton Rouge, with 8,800 students offered school choice. This year, only Claiborne Elementary School received an F grade and is obliged to offer the service.

As a charter school, Career Academy is treated differently under federal law. Charter schools are public schools run privately and the law views them as schools of choice, since families opted out of their neighborhood schools to attend these schools. Parents there have, in essence, exercised their choice, sometimes in defiance of metrics and ratings.

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