Do I Need to Use an Accredited Homeschool Program?
With the slow but steady growth of homeschooling across the United States comes a parallel growth in online, distance learning programs and schools. While many parents continue to provide independent, customized instruction to their children, others seek “enrolled homeschooling”—that which provides teacher-guided instruction, report cards/transcripts/credits, and other familiar elements of traditional education.
Choosing a provider for this type of schooling naturally leads to an increase in questions about accreditation: what is it exactly, and how does it pertain to homeschooling?
Accreditation in Brief
Briefly, accreditation of schools in the US means that an outside agency has reviewed a school based on a given set of standards, and certified that the school meets or exceeds those standards. This is not a one-time action, but requires periodic review and renewal in order to maintain this “seal of approval.”
Over one hundred years ago, the accreditation process was created to help high schools across the country standardize some courses and graduation requirements for college preparedness. Six regional agencies were set up for this purpose, and over time they expanded to include all levels of education: primary (K-8), secondary (9-12) and tertiary (college and university).
Some states continue to use regional accreditation through a consolidated group called AdvanceEd; others use their own state department of education to evaluate their K-12 public schools. Over time, this voluntary process became desirable, since it was seen as a way to build and maintain a credible reputation. This led to vocational programs – nursing, cosmetology, industrial, etc – wanting a similar system for quality assurance, and today there are about a dozen national accreditors based on specialty.
With the rise of online, distance learning programs for all grade levels comes a relatively new cottage industry of unofficial accrediting agencies. Shockingly, there are over 50 accrediting agencies of dubious nature in the US alone, designed primarily to support so-called “diploma mills.”
How Does Accreditation Relate to Homeschooling?
In a nutshell: Homeschool accreditation is not required.
No state requires that a homeschool program, curriculum, or diploma be accredited (in fact, homeschool curriculum can't be accredited!). Most institutions of higher learning do not require this either, although there may be exceptions by individual institutions or programs; and of course schools may change their requirements at any time.
Many families come to homeschooling from the public school system. As a result, they are asking questions based on a public school frame of reference, such as “How do I find an accredited homeschool program?” A better question to ask is, “Do I need to use an accredited homeschool program?” The answer is generally no.
Why Might a Homeschooler Want to use an Accredited Homeschool Program?
- The number of distance learning programs for all grade levels has grown so great that it’s hard to know how to choose. So while accreditation does not guarantee quality, it does provide assurance that there is oversight and adherence to standards. Some parents receive peace of mind knowing that they’ve invested in a program that has been reviewed and approved by an accrediting agency.
- If there is a likelihood that your student will return to public high school, then the transfer of recognized course credit becomes an important matter. Your state may have a list of recognized distance learning providers; any coursework completed with one on the list should transfer easily to public school.
- If your high schooler intends to pursue NCAA sports in college, more extensive documentation becomes necessary, and some families may find it easier to use an online or virtual school (which may or may not be accredited) and be evaluated as a nontraditional program rather than a homeschool program. Be sure to go directly to the source for updated information on NCAA requirements: http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/future/home-school-students
What’s missing from this very short list? Acceptance to community colleges, trade schools, the military, employment, and colleges/universities generally.
In years past, this was not always the case. For example, up until 2012, a high schooler interested in joining the military upon graduation would have been advised to earn an accredited diploma, since it was more readily accepted by military recruiters than parent-issued diplomas. New policies went into effect in 2012 that recognize the parent-issued diploma as the standard for enlistment in all branches of service.
Likewise, many vocational schools unfamiliar with homeschool laws have sometimes denied enrollment to a homeschooled student who does not hold an accredited diploma or a GED. These cases are usually based on erroneous assumptions, not on fact; and while frustrating to deal with, are usually resolved in favor of the homeschooled student based on state law.
Regarding employment: a prospective employer may ask if a distance learning program is accredited, and may see it favorably since it rules out the possibility of it being a “diploma mill”, but again, there is nothing in state or federal law that requires such accreditation.
Lastly, regarding colleges/universities: over the past several decades, it has actually been easier for a homeschooled graduate to gain acceptance to these than to vocational schools or military enlistment. In part, the latter two have dealt more with applicants who did not complete high school. Colleges/universities have a wide array of factors to evaluate for student admission: coursework, standardized test scores, letters of reference, written essays, personal interview, etc.; thus having an accredited diploma was not required.
How do I Find an Accredited Homeschool Program?
With the rise of online, distance learning programs for all grade levels comes a cottage industry of unofficial accrediting agencies. Make sure that the accreditation you see for a particular online school comes from a legitimate agency. The best choice is the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), which up until 2015 was known as the Distance Education & Training Council (DETC). https://www.deac.org/ Enter the name of a program you’re considering, or search the entire list. This will also help you to avoid the 50-plus dubious accrediting agencies and all the online schools they promote, thus saving your time and sanity.
Accreditation for homeschoolers applies mostly to those in very specific situations like potentially returning to public high school, and even that is only in certain localities. For the rest, accreditation is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.