There are 4 main ways of obtaining a high school diploma as a homeschooler in the state of Pennsylvania:
1. Parent Issued Diploma
3. Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma (both for homeschooled and privately-tutored students) – this diploma is awarded for either successfully completing the GED tests or by satisfactory completion of a minimum of 1 full year or 30 semester hours of study at an accredited institution of postsecondary education.
4. Diploma Program
Since the homeschool law went into effect, parents in Pennsylvania have been able to issue their own diplomas. Parents across the nation issue their own diplomas as well. There are only two states in the United States that even have diploma programs. The diploma program directors tout this as though it is something to be proud of. I disagree. Strongly. The reasons I have for not supporting the use of diploma programs can be summed up in three points: Misleading Ideology, Money, and Extra Requirements.
When I began homeschooling in York, PA eight years ago surrounded by hundreds of other families who homeschooled, I heard mention of these diploma agencies in a presentation I attended on homeschooling through high school. I wondered how they kept their existence as so few people, in fact none at I that I recall, that I knew used these agencies. The majority of families there seemed to agree that these programs were, in their words, a scam.
Then I moved north. Upon attending a meeting in this area on homeschooling during high school, I was overwhelmed at the support for the diploma agencies and fear of self-issuing a diploma to their children. At my mention of the simplicity of parent-issued diplomas, people looked at me as though I had two horns upon my head. Their words were of shock and disbelief. These parents really believed and STILL seem to believe their self-issued diplomas were worthless.
The information given by diploma agencies, a few select colleges, or misinformed places of employments are giving more and more people and such institutions the false impression that a diploma agencies’ diplomas somehow have more merit than those issued by a parent/supervisor of a home education program. The fact is, our parent issued-diplomas are worth just as much as the local school district’s diplomas and those of the diploma agencies. I looked up a section on diplomas on the PDE website. It states: “Some parents choose to provide a parent-issued diploma…There is nothing that prevents a parent from exercising this option.” There is nothing here to declare that the parent issued diploma is any less recognized than any other diploma by the PDE.
In truth, diploma agencies themselves are misleading and give the ideology that they are somehow better and use wording to make themselves somehow appear to have higher merit than parent issued diplomas. The word “agency” itself as used by one program leads some parents to believe this Diploma Programs is connected to the government or directly run by PDE. Parents have been led to believe that these programs have been through some sort of accreditation process – one such agency actually has the name accreditation in its name; however, none of them are accredited by PDE- the only agency that has any true determination on the bearing of my child’s diploma and whether it is acceptable by the Pennsylvania law. The diplomas issued by these programs are recognized by PDE as valid, yes, but no more so than my own parent issued diploma, the GED, or the Commonwealth Secondary Diploma that can be applied for after attending one year (30 semester hours) of college. In addition, one of the diploma program websites actually states they formed the program to provide homeschoolers with a ‘legitimate’ diploma insinuating that a parent issued diploma is not legitimate which is FAR from the truth.
Furthermore, a diploma itself is not an indication of what the child’s education entailed. The programs fixate so much on the diploma and with particular colleges or places of employment looking for particular types of diploma, one would think it had more significance. But, really, the diploma only demonstrates that education has been completed, not the details behind the education. It is the transcript that demonstrates this and it is the transcript (and SAT or ACT scores) that the great majority of colleges place their decisions on for admission. Along with parent issued diplomas, it is quite easy for a parent to make a transcript for their student as well.
The diploma programs charge money and because extra hoops for the parents to fly through that are completely unnecessary. Some parents seem to think it is easier to go through the agency than create their own diploma and transcript. I have some empathy here as I know having the weight of a child’s education on one’s own shoulders is a heavy burden to bare, but in actuality there is generally more paperwork involved in obtaining the right type of evaluation form, and mailing information back and forth than there is in just filling out your own forms, not to mention a savings of the money paid to the agency (and sometimes to a an evaluator that may be more expensive than others) to do the same things a parent themselves can do rather inexpensively.
Diploma agencies have led to more requirements/ expectations from school districts. It is of my opinion that these programs have most likely been a large part if not all of the reason school districts have raised expectations/requirements of homeschool portfolios and evaluators. Portfolios need to contain all that the agency requires (for the eyes of the evaluator) which is above the expectations of the Pennsylvania Law. Evaluators are often required to write out extensive evaluation letters, which has seemed to lead many evaluators to write out such extensive letters for most of their clients. Thus, when some evaluators choose to write out a simple one page form and only give the districts what is necessary by law, they are met with irritation and requests for longer summaries with more information. This is something I refuse to do as an evaluator as it serves no purpose or need in the child’s education. The school district needs to know I followed the law. They do not need to know all of the extras we do.
I have to ask myself why, when so many homeschoolers complain already about the excessive requirements for homeschoolers in Pennsylvania already, would they give into the demands of a diploma program and pay money to do so? One of the reasons I homeschool is to allow us the flexibility of selecting the coursework and schedule that I feel is appropriate for MY child. Why would I want someone else to tell me how many books my child should read in a year or what kind let alone how many research papers, how long those research papers or compositions have to be and how many speeches he or she needs to do to be prepared for whatever they will be doing in their future? Maybe I’ll do all those things anyway. Maybe I won’t. But I’m not paying someone else to tell me what my child’s requirements should be.
In my recent research of this situation, I spoke to or emailed several parents, evaluators and other sources in reference to diploma programs. I also exchanged several emails with a spokesman at HSLDA. HSLDA (the Homeschool Legal Defense Association whom I do support) does support the diploma programs as they see them as an extra resource and blessing to many members – I’m guessing here due to having someone else handle the paperwork? – BUT also feel parents should have the FREEDOM to choose whether to use a diploma program or not. Therefore, we shouldn’t be forced by the government or anyone else to use such a program. The spokesman did relate that it is frustrating, however, when employers or schools use these programs as a standard to judge other diplomas but also stated it is a rare occurrence among their members and feels that more private colleges and employers are accommodating to homeschoolers. While I understand their viewpoint, I feel the existence of these programs is leading to such an occurrence.
These occurrence/challenges do happen. Several state schools across the state and some places of employment do require a diploma from a diploma program ( I have been told, so I think it is important to note however, that even some of these schools that state they require a diploma program diploma have made exceptions for some students). HSLDA does assist members in such situations but most lower-income families do not have the added comfort of being members of HSLDA- thus they cave to the diploma programs – which, in my opinion, gives the programs more leverage and leads the path for more places to make the demands.
It’s a hard call for some parents, I know. Some worry about their children finding local jobs when some businesses have a reputation for requiring a diploma program. No one wants to be the ‘poster child’ fighting the injustice of the prejudice of homeschoolers. Yet, if enough people gathered together to fight the injustice, they would most likely win a legal case and make the community a better place for homeschoolers without having to jump through the unnecessary hoops.
We had no problems with our parent issued diploma for our daughter. She was accepted to each school she applied to, none of which even wanted her diploma but were only interested in the things that demonstrated her potential – her transcript and SAT scores. Some colleges ask for course descriptions but the ones she applied to did not. But what will happen in 2 years when our son begins applying to schools? Will we be forced to call HSLDA in defense of our parent issued diploma?? It is my hope that when my son determines his goals for college, we will find out what schools will meet his needs that do NOT have a requirement for a diploma from one of these programs.
Diploma programs are not a true benefit at all in my opinion. So while my son will be doing many things these programs require, it will be because I deem it important to his education and will approach it in a way meaningful to HIM – NOT because I’m paying someone else to tell me to do it - or how or when to do it.
And, while I admit that I have done evaluations for these programs in the past, as I then felt called to do so to help out some friends, I have chosen now to not do it. It made me feel like too much of a hypocrite and felt too stressful knowing I was supporting these programs even in this small way – even giving one money to do the evaluation (Yes, at least one program even charges the evaluator to be an evaluator for them!) I just refuse to support these programs in any way any longer.
So there you have it. This is my honest opinion on Pennsylvania homeschool diploma programs and why I simply do not support these programs. I’m sure there are people that will disagree with me – obviously the people behind these programs will as well as the institutions that, in my opinion, have been duped into believing diplomas issued by these programs somehow demonstrate any more ability in a student than someone who has worked just as hard, often more, to earn their parent-issued diploma, and many who use these programs will disagree as well. That’s okay. But I need to not hide my own opinion. I feel the call to speak out and inform parents. I need to let people know that legally, your parent issued diploma has just as much merit as any other. Don’t let an institution that wants your money make you believe differently. Don’t cave in to something that has the potential to make requirements higher for homeschoolers in the future. Don’t let your students see you cave to pressure. And most of all- believe in your rights and your own merit.