by Lee Binz
We have all been conditioned to think that when something is labeled “certified” or “accredited,” it is somehow superior to those things that are not. While this might be true for “Certified Angus Beef,” it is not necessarily true for education.
Homeschoolers seem to have certain fears in common, and one major fears is how to homeschool through high school. When I started homeschooling high school, I was filled with insecurity and self-doubt. Could I educate my children independently or would I need to become “accredited” to avoid crippling their chances to go to college? Even if they did manage to get accepted into colleges, would there be any scholarship money available to them?
Accreditation is a process in which school standards are evaluated by an accreditation agency. In the United States, this process is not completed by the federal government, but by states or private companies with varying rules and standards.
Different groups promote accreditation for homeschoolers. They suggest hard and fast rules on how things should to be done, leaving parents feeling that their way of homeschooling was somehow deficient. It’s as though they think only a certain format or approach, or a single method will guarantee success. Looking around, it’s easy to see that homeschoolers of all varieties do indeed succeed, so it must be possible therefore to succeed even without accreditation.
Unaccredited Public Schools
If not a guarantee of success, then what good is accreditation? You might not be aware but there are public high schools across the nation that are not accredited. I contacted the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, asking how I could determine which public high schools in my state are accredited. I received this surprising response;
While most public Washington State High Schools are accredited, not all are. Each school, public or private, decides if they want to go through the accreditation process. You would need to contact each school individually to determine their status.
~Elona Dopson, Executive Services, K12.WA.US
Each individual school makes the decision about accreditation. Some public and private schools decide that it’s not worth the hassle, so it must not be important to those schools. Apparently, it is not a significant issue for the public to know either, since there is no state registry, and parents have to contact their district and schools individually. My local high school made no mention on their website about being accredited. Apparently they work under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy.
One school district webpage in Missouri clearly explains what I have been telling parents for years. Accreditation isn’t the “be-all-end-all.” How does a public school district explain to their parents the consequences of being unaccredited?
What Happens When a School District Becomes Unaccredited?
Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
May students transfer from an unaccredited district to another district?
Yes, if another district will accept them.
Does unaccredited status affect students’ diplomas?
Students who graduate from an unaccredited school district still receive diplomas.
What about admission to college?
The unaccredited status of a school district should not have a negative impact on a student’s admission to a college or university. [Because] higher education institutions typically consider multiple sources of information
What about eligibility for scholarships?
Students who graduate from an unaccredited school district should still be eligible for any scholarship for which they would otherwise qualify.
It’s interesting to read the no-nonsense, the-sky-isn’t-falling response to parental concern about accreditation. Consider their advice, and apply it to unaccredited transcripts made by homeschool parents.
Unaccredited Homeschool Transcripts
Homeschoolers should learn something from the information about unaccredited public schools. Colleges and universities will view a homeschool the same as a public or private school that is not accredited. Do you know if your local high school is accredited? How would you know? There is no national list of accredited public and private high schools that I could find. There were partial lists involving other states, but none that listed my state schools in Washington.
Most parents assume their local high school is accredited and happily go about the college admission process oblivious to the truth. There are dozens of articles and reports in the media about the “education crisis,” but none about the “accreditation crisis.” The reason…there is no “accreditation crisis.”
Public school children who move between an unaccredited school and an accredited school may experience difficulty. Homeschoolers may as well. Children who move from district to district may also suffer. I’ve heard from many parents who have started homeschooling after they move because of the trouble they had with the local public school about inappropriate grade level assignments. That isn’t an issue for homeschool families. We can always teach our children at their level, regardless of how many times we move from district to district.
A homeschool diploma has value. Unaccredited public schools can provide a diploma, and so unaccredited homeschool families can do the same. Providing your child with a diploma is a meaningful rite of passage. A quick visit to HomeschoolDiploma.com can provide that symbol of success. Yet education is not about the piece of paper. The paper doesn’t matter -- the education matters.
Although it could be difficult for an unaccredited homeschooler to enter an accredited high school, it is significantly easier for the same homeschooler to get into a high-quality college. Universities have a very sophisticated method in determining the suitability of prospective students. Whether their diploma is accredited or un-accredited, whether they come from a public school, private school or homeschool, universities take the same “trust but verify” approach. An accredited diploma or transcript is not carte blanche to university admission.
Accredited Public Schools
What happens when a school district IS accredited? The truth is…nothing magical. Schools are still schools, whether they are accredited or not. In Washington State, for example, the “report card” from the Superintendent of Public Instruction is dismal.
The dropout rate in Washington is 5.6% every year. Do you know any homeschoolers who have dropped out of school before their parents graduated them? Only 72% of children graduate high school within 4 years. When given more years to complete high school, only 77% will graduate. In our state, they spend almost $9,3000 per student and yet almost 20% do not meet minimum requirements in reading and writing, and more than half do not meet minimum standards in math and science. How is your homeschool doing? What percentage of your students will graduate –even graduate late?
In my neighborhood high school, I found these interesting statistics:
99% of classes were taught by teachers deemed highly qualified. On average, they had 11 years of teaching experience, and most had a Master's Degree in education. Even so, by 10th grade, one out of five students could not pass the writing test. One out of four students could not pass the reading assessment. Only one third of students with these highly qualified teachers could pass the math section or science test. What percent of your homeschool students are working at their grade level?
School failures result in students who can’t read or write, who can’t function in college or careers. Colleges complain that high school students across the nation are admitted with stellar grades but still need remedial help with reading, writing, and math. Nobody is perfect, and even homeschool children have free will to make stupid decisions. Still, most homeschoolers are able to manhandle their child into graduating from high school. Like making sausage, it isn’t always pretty, but homeschoolers are a resilient bunch, and they manage to get it done.
Whatever their failings (ALL children have weaknesses, after all) even the thought of calculating a homeschool dropout rate seems silly. How are your homeschool students doing? Can they read, write, and do math by the time they graduate high school?
Schools are quick to point out that they can’t be solely responsible for the failures of public education. Parents are also culpable. With a group of highly qualified, certificated teachers and professionally selected curricula, success is not guaranteed. On the other hand, homeschool parents have a deep love for their children. Motivated by their love, they can see appropriate curriculum, and compensate for their own weaknesses with heightened motivation for success. It’s easy for homeschool teachers to compensate for tight curriculum budgets or lack of advanced degrees. It’s almost impossible for quality public or private school teachers to compensate for a lack of parental involvement.
Stop worrying about accreditation. Focus on what’s important and I promise you that your superior homeschool education will win out in the end.
Who Cares About Homeschool Accreditation?
Colleges understand homeschooling and homeschool transcripts. Beyond that, colleges truly appreciate homeschool students. We’ve come a long way from the early days of homeschooling when colleges viewed homeschoolers as alien life forms. Now most colleges appreciate the variety of homeschool students. They understand our quirky course titles, our “delight directed learning,” our “mommy-grades” and “kitchen credits”. Most shocking of all, they don’t seem to care much about accreditation.
In fact, in my research it has become clear that ONLY ONE GROUP really cares about accreditation – the agencies that make money on accreditation. Accredited transcripts cost parents lots of money. They place ads all over the internet and in magazines, spouting phrases like “accredited homeschool” and “real transcript” as if accreditation was a huge deal. At the same time, they hamstring parents who don’t fit neatly in the unschooling-to-classical continuum.
There are really rotten schools that are accredited. There are great schools that are not accredited. Does it matter? Colleges and employers value our homeschoolers for who they are, not because of accreditation.
Official or Accredited
When you educate your children within the bounds of state law, you can provide an official homeschool transcript. There is a difference between an “accredited” and an “official” homeschool transcripts. Homeschool credits are official, and our transcripts are official. Homeschool transcripts are usually NOT accredited, however. Accredited transcripts are provided by certified organizations.
There are programs that can accredit your transcript. They can be VERY expensive in the long run. On average it would cost a homeschooler $2000-$5000 simply for a piece of paper that says “accredited.” It’s not more official than a homeschool diploma made by a parent. It’s equally official. Homeschool parents can proudly name their transcript “Official” just as unaccredited public schools use the word.
Children from unaccredited public schools are admitted to college just the same way as homeschoolers with unaccredited transcripts. Colleges are used to considering multiple sources of information, from letters of recommendation to test scores and class schedules. We are NOT unique as homeschoolers. We are just another “unknown” school to colleges, and we are treated as such.
Scholarships are possible. There are some scholarships unique to public school students, just as there are some homeschool scholarships that public school students can’t access. However, many scholarship opportunities are open to everyone, and a homeschool education will have little impact on your ability to finance college with scholarships.
I homeschooled my two children independently through high school. I gave my children a homeschool diploma printed from HomeschoolDiploma.com. I gave them mommy-made grades and kitchen credits. My children earned four-year full tuition scholarships based on my official homeschool transcripts.
I am not alone in this accomplishment. I have helped many families who have done similar and even more remarkable things with their humble homeschool. Don’t be intimidated by those who want to profit from your insecurities. You can do this and you don’t need to spend thousands to do it with excellence!
Thank you for writing the article "Homeschool Accreditation: Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
I was homeschooling a foster daughter for 10th & 11th grade when she announced she wanted to go back to the public high school for her senior year. I didn't like the idea, but wanted to honor her decision (she later told me she would have been better off not going back to public school, but that's another story). She registered for school and at 5:30 p.m. the night before school began, I got a phone call from the school secretary telling me the principal had decided not to accept my credits. She would have to take 10th grade classes. I didn't think this sounded right, so I called the state senator who had written the legislation that favorably affected homeschoolers, Loren Leman. He told me to have her go to the classes she had signed up for and for me to ask to see the school's written policy.
The principal passed me off to the superintendent. The superintendent took out the written policy. It said: "Credits from other schools may be accepted from accredited schools or at the superintendent's discretion." I smiled at him, handed him my course syllabus', report cards and transcript. It took him 6 weeks to make his final decision, but he accepted all of my homeschool credits.
Persistence counts. My wonderful girl is now a married mother of 3 with homeschool aspirations of her own.
Your article will help put the accreditation myth to rest for a lot of folks. I also sent your story to my pastor who runs the only private Christian high School on our island as an encouragement to him and our "unaccredited" school teachers.
Laura in Alaska
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school.Get Lee's 5 part mini-course, "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School." You can find her at http://www.TheHomeScholar.com.
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