Homeschooling has been gaining momentum over the past decade, and it’s no mystery why: Homeschooling is producing confident, well-adjusted kids who excel academically. In many cases, homeschooled students far exceed the national average of public school students who move on to college pursuits. The statistics prove homeschoolers on average score 25-40% higher on standardized tests than their public school counterparts. But not all homeschoolers understand the importance of accreditation and graduating with an accredited diploma. If they are not careful, homeschoolers may find they are not given proper credit for their hard work throughout high school. That’s why it is so important to carefully vet and consider homeschool accreditation when choosing a homeschool program. Here’s what you need to know about homeschool accreditation and why it matters to you!
The Meaning of Accreditation
Accreditation is a process by which private educational institutions are evaluated against established standards to ensure a high level of educational quality. It is typically accomplished through a peer-review process in which faculty from accredited institutions help to conduct evaluations of either new non-accredited institutions or accredited institutions seeking renewal.
It is important to understand that the term “accredited” can be thrown about a little carelessly and not all accreditations are alike or equal. Homeschoolers really need to know what to look for when beginning their inquiries.
Accreditation is all about transparency. All institutions of higher education, whether online or physical, will openly provide information on their accreditation to prospective students. Be cautious of any language that gives the appearance of accreditation when in fact none exists — phrases such as “licensed,” “registered,” “authorized,” and “approved” may sneakily imply an unearned distinction.
In essence, accreditation is a method of differentiating schools that uphold consistent academic standards from those who do not.
Reaching the highest standards possible and a long-term commitment to improvement are what we want to see from our homeschool institutions, and accreditation is a formal method of proof. It forces schools to assess enrollment methods, staff qualifications, materials, resource allocation, program effectiveness, and much more. So does it really matter? The answer is, “Yes!”
The accreditation process
Accreditation is not easy to obtain, given that an institution must open every aspect of its academic and business practices for review. While accreditation bodies differ, the process of accreditation is similar across all accrediting bodies. All schools must have been open and in operation for at least two years. This is required by all accrediting bodies and is important to ensure that schools develop the right educational and business practices to ensure success.
Accreditation is typically accomplished through a peer-review process in which faculty from accrediting agencies conduct on-premise evaluations of new non-accredited institutions or accredited institutions seeking renewal. Most accrediting bodies require the following elements as part of their accreditation review:
- A self-assessment Organizations will perform a self-review of their processes, programs, courses, staff, and academic requirements. This will be reviewed by the accrediting body.
- Candidacy If an institution meets the requirements of the accrediting body during the self-assessment, they move into the candidacy phase where they are considered a candidate for accreditation. During this phase, the institution will continue to review its programs and processes for compliance and shore up any weak areas. They will also continue drafting the documentation needed for the review process.
- A site review After candidacy, the accrediting body will perform a site review that will include an in-depth analysis of all documentation, interviews, course and class visits, and an analysis of business processes.
- Final judgement After the site review, the candidate will be given either accreditation or a denial of accreditation, and a report on what areas need to be addressed before another application can be considered.
Recognized Accreditation Organizations
It is also quite prudent to review the qualifications of the accrediting agency that has evaluated and approved the institution in question. Fake, or unreputable, accrediting agencies abound in homeschooling, so it is very important to do your homework. Wikipedia produces a list of unverified accrediting agencies, many of which are fraudulent in nature, having absolutely no academic or legal value. Some accrediting bodies are more strict than others. So, when reviewing an accrediting body, be sure to compare its standards against others to find any discrepancies.
Accreditation can be broken down into two main groups:
- Regional accreditation There are six regional accreditation organizations in the U.S. that have historically accredited most K-12 schools, and nearly all public and private institutions of higher education that are academic in nature. The U.S. Department of Education State Regulations of Private Schools provides a listing of stringent requirements by state.
- Religious or private accreditation It is also common for national and regional associations of independent or religious schools to provide accreditation for their members. Some regional accreditation agencies include AdvancED and the National Association of Private Schools.
Regardless of what accrediting body you choose to work with, it’s imperative that you read through your state requirements for homeschooling to ensure you are meeting standards. Even those who choose not to obtain homeschool accreditation must meet state requirements yearly and for graduation. Find out your homeschool laws by state here.
How does accreditation benefit homeschooling families?
The process of becoming an accredited institution is a long and arduous one for all schools, but especially for non-traditional schools like homeschool institutions. It is also an ongoing process that does not end after accreditation is granted. After the initial accreditation status is granted, periodic evaluations continue for renewal purposes and to ensure that the school is maintaining high standards.
But why should accreditation matter to homeschool families? Why is homeschool accreditation important? There are many benefits to homeschool accreditation.
- An organization you can trust Accreditation demonstrates a history of trustworthiness. An accredited homeschool program is one that has been carefully considered, vetted, and found to be up to standards. This means that the homeschool program can prove measured success over many years and is more likely to give you the experience you both expect and deserve!
- Consistent quality and measured success An accredited homeschool program will show consistent quality in programming, and ensures that institutions uphold the highest academic standards possible. This means that your child’s learning experience will be of high quality and meet academic expectations.
- Opportunities for higher-education funding Accreditation may also allow students to take advantage of NCAA funding and other scholarships reserved for students attending an accredited school. In addition, not all colleges and universities will consider homeschool classes taken without accreditation. This could impact your child’s chances for scholarships.
- Record-keeping and transcript support How many credits does your high school student need to graduate? What classes are required? These questions can drown a homeschooling parent in worries and require tons of research to answer. When you work with an accredited homeschool partner, they do the grade reporting, record keeping, credit tracking, and transcript, so you can have peace of mind and enjoy focusing on teaching and educating your child at home.
- Protection of homeschool rights While some states support homeschooling, others are more skeptical and have stricter homeschooling laws. Some even require that you find a homeschool partner! When you work with a homeschool partner accredited by the Department of Education, you’re safely under their umbrella of protection. To your state, it’s as if your child is in public or private school, except you keep all the benefits of homeschooling.
- Seamless integration into traditional schools Homeschooling is often best. But sometimes the need arises to place your student back into a public or private school. Without an accredited transcript, there’s no guarantee that the school will accept your child’s credits. And it can be harder to gain entry into elite programs like Honors and AP, and even extracurricular activities. An accredited transcript gives you the ability to easily transfer your child back into a traditional school knowing they will be given credit for their hard work.
- Ensuring the future While homeschoolers are considered as equals with their peers from traditional schools, not all classes are considered equal. To ensure your child receives credit, particularly for AP and Dual Enrollment courses, you want to work with a school that has gone through the process and obtained homeschool accreditation. Your student deserves every opportunity, and an accredited transcript and diploma will open doors for your child that otherwise may remain closed.
Because homeschool programs are not like their traditional classroom counterparts, homeschool accreditation looks different from accreditation for brick and mortar schools. However, homeschooled institutions still go through a rigorous process to meet accredited standards. Homeschool schools must:
- demonstrate how educational standards are met.
- demonstrate how success is determined.
- demonstrate how programs are customized to meet children’s needs.
- demonstrate how measurements are taken to ensure that students consistently gain ground in academic learning and growth.
*Full accreditation proves that ALL programs within a homeschool institution are of high academic standards and will count toward your diploma — that’s the bottom line of your expectations!
At Bridgeway, we take every student seriously. It’s a rigorous process for homeschool accreditation, but it’s worth every effort. It involves a careful assessment of our staff, curriculum, classes, enrollment process, instructors, and more. We critically think about the direction we want our institution to go. It shows our strengths and improvements. Bridgeway strives to meet all educational standards and exceeds what other accredited homeschool organizations provide. Most of all, we want to exceed the expectations of our students.
Bridgeway Academy has dual homeschool accreditation through AdvancED, National Accreditation Commission, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and The National Association of Private Schools, and we review our accreditation and requirements yearly.
Do your homework!
Because laws vary state-by-state, it is best to educate yourself carefully when selecting the best homeschooling institution for your family. First, check with the homeschool academy’s admissions office for details of their accreditation. Many reputable schools may be accredited by more than one institution because there are state, regional, and national accrediting organizations. Note how long a school has been accredited, and if there have been any complaints about its academic programs to any of the listed accrediting institutions.
It is important to note that academic credits from some nationally-accredited schools are not universally transferable to regionally-accredited ones. If transfer of credit is one of your goals, be sure to check with the school you plan to transfer to — be sure they accept the credits from the nationally-accredited school. Verifying a school’s accreditation will ensure that your student can transfer into other schools at an equivalent grade level, transition easily into colleges and universities, and enter the workforce with a recognized high school diploma.