What does it mean for a school to be accredited and do you need it for homeschooling?
To be accredited- a school is reviewed by a qualified outside source and must meet certain criteria for continued accreditation. This process occurs about every five years. Typically, a group comes on-site and spends a week visiting school campuses, speaking with constituents, reviewing data and compiling a summary report of their findings. Afterwards, they either award accreditation, have some commendations for pending accreditation, or deny it.
Why is this process so important for schools (and universities)? $$$
Schools can lose funding and ultimately risk the possibility of being closed if they do not earn accreditation status. It’s a process put in place that ensures accountability with school district plans and programs.
Another reason schools pursue accreditation is to be able to teach certain courses, such as Advanced Placement, and to be able to support student athletes with NCAA eligibility requirements.
These agencies are accrediting the schools only, not the materials being used or individual people. Sometimes people confuse pieces of curriculum with accreditation, but it is schools that receive accreditation, not the materials being used for instruction.
It can be compared to the process that occurs with restaurants. They must have an on-site food inspection by a representative of an agency who gives them a score based on a series of check points. If a restaurant doesn’t pass inspection, they are given a certain amount of time to fix the issues or risk being shut down.
However, not all school and university accreditation processes are equal. Some require a more rigorous and thorough process while others are more of a paid service that pretty much gives a routine stamp of approval unless there are glaring issues. Regional accreditation is more widely accepted and known as having the highest standards and most rigorous process. If accreditation matters to a college, they would look at this information.
Not all schools, public and/or private, go through the accreditation process. There are some very reputable and high performing schools that have not gone through the process as well as some struggling schools with poor reputations that have received accreditation. It’s an expensive and time consuming process to maintain and some schools do not pursue it as the outcome wouldn’t change their program structure, goals or standards.
There’s some “buyer beware” among businesses that specifically target homeschool families to purchase an accredited diploma (for minimal requirements) and a hefty fee. These could unfortunately be scams and parents need to do their research in advance to avoid losing money, or worse, something that looks suspicious to admissions advisors.
What does accreditation mean for homeschooling families?
Accreditation becomes more of a consideration once your student starts earning high school credits and you fall under one of the three situations listed below.
If you are teaching a homeschool student at the elementary and middle grade levels, accreditation is a non-issue as it will not have a direct impact on their return to public school and they have not started earning high school credits.
Even if none of the situations below apply to your homeschooler’s situation, it is advisable to check with post-secondary institutions or colleges about their diploma or admissions requirements before making decisions about your homeschool high school plan.
There are three ways that it may impact their continued educational path.
1- They want to finish high school at a public school and have not been to an accredited school for credits.
While this is not true of all high schools, unfortunately some have denied credits to homeschool students who were not in a previous accredited program.
If your homeschooler may be finishing their high school credits at a traditional school in your state, you could email an academic advisor to ask about their process for awarding credits. It would be advisable to keep this response for documentation if there are questions or conflicting information later.
If you know your homeschooler will be transferring or returning to a traditional public high school and do not want to run into issues with credits or required End of Course tests, then it would be in the student’s best interest to complete classes from an accredited school and keep open communication with the high school guidance department.
2- Their college of choice requires courses from an accredited institution.
This is not true of all colleges. Many are mainly interested in test scores and transcripts. Independent homeschoolers with a parent issued transcripts along with other admission requirements are accepted in many colleges.
However, it is worth doing research on the admission requirements if your homeschooler has aspirations of going to a particular college. There could be problems associated with scholarship programs or other admission requirements that makes it worth some research in advance.
Colleges would likely be more interested in accreditation status if your homeschooler completed any dual enrollment courses since those would be considered for earned credits.
3- Your child wants to play in NCAA college sports.
If you have a student athlete that wants to play in NCAA college sports, it’s important to review their requirements for eligibility, which states “you must be a graduate of an accredited high school” in addition to their specific course and academic requirements.
This particular issue is receiving more attention as states pass Tim Tebow Laws and homeschoolers are increasingly being allowed to play on high school sports teams while still maintaining their status as a homeschooled student.
If none of these situations apply to your child’s continued educational endeavors, then accreditation is a non-issue. Even if your child does fit one of these situations, you may find in your research that it still does not impact a particular school’s requirements or guidelines.
Colleges are often interested in SAT or test scores and academic transcripts. A diverse transcript of types of homeschool high school courses, such as online classes, dual enrollment, advanced classes, and high school extracurriculars is often viewed favorably among college admission requirements. Excepted as noted above, they are not typically looking for a previous school’s accreditation status.
As mentioned above, many independent homeschoolers with a parent issued transcript are accepted into colleges, including highly selective colleges. They often require test scores, essays and perhaps a portfolio of a student’s work and community involvement. For these reasons, it is most important to keep accurate records and documentation so that you can provide post-secondary schools with information that they request.