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State Organization Grants Recognized Diplomas

By Howard Richman
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #3, 1993.

Howard Richman explains how Pennsylvania Homeschoolers pulled this off.

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Howard and Susan Richman

A decade ago when Susan and I began homeschooling, you had "older" children if they were 7 or 8 years old. Now the homeschooling movement is growing up. Our high school junior, Jesse, is one of a great wave of totally homeschooled students who will soon graduate.

Yet in most states the available high school graduation options are not very desirable. Sure, you can have your teenager take the GED, but you might wish you didn't have to lump your child in with former dropouts. If your child is retarded, passing the GED might be out of the question anyway.

Then there are correspondence school diplomas, but you might not find that their curriculums suit your teaching style. Also you may find that not all colleges accept correspondence school diplomas.

For example, Miriam Troxler, a brilliant and very musical homeschooler from Beaver, Pennsylvania, graduated from a correspondence school in 1991 and gave up her many cello students to attend Chatham College in Pittsburgh. She was accepted without any problem, but when she applied for state scholarship grants to help defray her tuition costs, she was turned down. The state agency that gives such grants asked why her diploma was from Illinois. When they discovered that she had graduated by correspondence they told her that she would have to take the GED in order to qualify for a scholarship grant. State agencies, at least in Pennsylvania, often discriminate against correspondence school diplomas.

If you live in Pennsylvania, you have another alternative diploma option. Your children can get recognized diplomas from a homeschool organization. They can graduate as homeschoolers, get state scholarship grants to college, and never have to take the GED.

How We Got Recognition for Our Diplomas

When our homeschooling law passed in December 1988, it included a provision listing requirements for high school graduation from a home education program. The requirements were fairly innocuous: four years of English, three years of math, five years of science, and so on. Our law, however, did not specify who was to give the diplomas.

We had a hard battle just getting our Department of Education to specify who was to give the diplomas to homeschooled students. At first they were just negative. They said that school districts did not have to give the diplomas. They said that they didn't like the idea of parents issuing diplomas to their own children, and they were not eager to issue the diplomas themselves. Finally, they specified that the homeschool organizations should issue the diplomas because homeschoolers would have a "vested interest" in maintaining the quality of their own diplomas.

Based on that decision we set up an accreditation agency, PA Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency, to issue diplomas under Pennsylvania law. Our diplomas were put to the test when our first graduates applied for state scholarship grants for college. At first the Department of Education balked at recognizing our diplomas. But after we got a powerful state legislator to speak to them on our behalf and after we submitted a statement of our standards and procedures, they ruled that home education diplomas from our agency were the equivalent of a high school diploma.

The first PA Homeschoolers graduate to receive a scholarship grant from the state was Julie Rearick from Armstrong County. Julie was accepted by her first choice, an expensive private college, but knew she could not afford to attend without that grant. To take the GED, she would have to sign that she was a drop-out, which would immediately cause her to lose the social security that she had been receiving since her father died. But when the PA Homeschoolers diploma was recognized, she received a substantial scholarship grant that enabled her to go to the college of her choice without losing social security in the meantime.

A second test for our diplomas occurred when Penn State came out with a policy that all homeschoolers would have to pass the GED. Peter Pryjmak, one of our seniors, had applied to three colleges, including Penn State. All three had accepted him, but Penn State's acceptance was contingent upon him taking the GED. He wanted to go to Penn State, but had no intention of going there with this condition. We got involved. After letters and conversations with the admissions people at Penn State and with the Department of Education, the Department wrote a letter to Penn State recognizing the PA Homeschoolers diploma and Penn State wrote a letter to Peter Pryjmak dropping the GED requirement.

Only one other state, to my knowledge, is working on provisions for high school graduation from home education programs. In North Dakota the school districts will determine whether or not they will accept or reject high school credits of home-based students. In Pennsylvania homeschool organizations set the standards for course credits, not the school districts. I suspect that homeschool organizations have a much less narrow vision for homeschooling.

In April 1993 two other homeschool organizations joined PA Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency on the Pennsylvania Department of Education's list of homeschool organizations whose diplomas are recognized as being the equivalent of high school diplomas under Pennsylvania law. Homeschoolers in Pennsylvania benefit from the competition among homeschooling organizations. If the standards set by one organization don't suit your teaching style then you can go with the standards of another Organization.

How our Diploma Program Works

Pennsylvania has an unusual homeschool law. It requires that children's progress be evaluated each year by someone who has a background as a teacher or psychologist. Many homeschooling parents are performing this service. In our particular diploma program, high school credits are awarded by the evaluator when he signs our transcript which is also signed by the parent. The evaluation letters act as letters of reference for the student and get attached to the transcript. They tell about quality work, service activities, and initiative shown by the student.

Each homeschool organization has set different standards. We set our standards in a way that would give homeschoolers freedom as to how they did courses but would insure that all our graduates were well read, good writers, and able to speak in public. Our standards can be changed by a vote of our membership. They were designed so that students could use textbooks if they wanted, but didn't have to. Some of our students work on academics in the morning and on vocational apprenticeships in the afternoon. Some use textbooks, some complete courses by reading many books borrowed from the library, and some write research papers to get course credit. Not every student does well in every subject area, but homeschoolers, in general, excel in at least one area or another.

Some of our graduates go directly from high school into skilled trades; some go to college. Our diploma allows our graduates to be up-front about being homeschooled when they go in for interviews. Colleges are eager to admit them because they are obviously unique people who have something different to offer.

Suggestions for Other States

Many aspects of our diploma program could be transferred to your state. Perhaps the basic principle is for your organization to set up its own diploma program with standards and procedures, and then, once it is running, go to your Department of Education for recognition as being equivalent to a public high school diploma for state scholarship grants to college. It may be a battle, and you will probably have to get friendly state representatives and senators involved, but you can win!

At least nine states (FL, IA, LA, ME, NH, OH, VT, VA, and WA) have laws that permit parents to use evaluators as an alternative to achievement tests. In those states it would be possible to do something very similar to what we do at PA Homeschoolers. You could use the evaluators to certify credits, sign transcripts and diplomas, and supply evaluation letters that can be attached to the transcripts.

Some homeschool leaders in other states, including Maryland, have already been working to set up a high school diploma program along the Pennsylvania model.

Anyone who would like more information about what we are doing in Pennsylvania is welcome to purchase our 32-page guide to the PA Homeschoolers diploma available for $5 from PA Homeschoolers (RD 2 Box 117, Kittanning PA 16201). You'll also find some good suggestions in the guide for achieving excellence at home, completing term papers, and getting scholarships for college.

As the homeschooling movement continues to grow up, I expect that organizations in your state might want to follow the Pennsylvania model or come up with your own alternatives for homeschool diplomas.

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