Go to any homeschooling conference and you’ll see vendor booths selling high school programs. They could be correspondence courses, online courses or credit services. Most homeschooling parents and students know to ask about accreditation, but unfortunately, they usually ask the wrong question.
I have overheard sales people at these booths using potentially misleading phrases such as “equivalent to a high school diploma” (hint: if it’s equivalent to something, it’s not actually that thing). But perhaps the most confusing word for parents out in the alternative high school diploma industry is accredited.
YOU MAY NOT NEED ACCREDITATION, BUT WHEN YOU NEED IT, YOU REALLY NEED IT
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe everyone needs an accredited program to get them through their high school years. I don’t believe that an accredited program is, based on that fact alone, automatically superior to one that is not accredited. If I were homeschooling high school aged children right now, I personally wouldn’t choose to use an accredited program unless I was educating under constraints that made its use necessary. (Stay tuned for a later post on that!) Remember that you might not even need a high school diploma at all, even if you want to go to university.
But, if you’re asking whether or not a program is accredited, that probably means you have come to the conclusion that your child needs or wants the benefits of accreditation. And if so, then you need to ask, “Accredited by whom?” or you may as well not ask at all.
HANG OUT A SHINGLE, AND YOU’RE A CERTIFICATION BOARD
I’m bringing up this topic again because of an article I read this morning in the Boston Herald regarding U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul’s claim to be a board certified doctor. It turns out that Paul is indeed certified . . . by a medical organization that he himself founded and currently heads. The Boston Herald article explains:
Paul, a Republican from Bowling Green and an ophthalmologist, says he’s certified by the National Board of Ophthalmology. But, Lori Boukas, a spokeswoman for the American Board of Medical Specialties, said the organization considers certifications valid only if they are done by the two dozen groups that have its approval and that of the AMA. The American Board of Ophthalmology said Paul hasn’t been certified since Dec. 31, 2005.
From what I gather from this article, the American Medical Association considers certifications issued by the American Board of Ophthalmology to be valid, but not those issued by the National Board of Ophthalmology, the latter being an organization that Paul created himself because he took issue with the certification practices of the former.
I’m not implying that there’s necessarily anything shady about forming your own accrediting body, but you can see how it creates confusion. If you were a budding ophthalmologist, then you would really need to know that the American and National Boards are two different entities, viewed differently by the American Medical Association and probably, therefore, by future employers. While both boards can offer you certification, those certifications are not equally accepted in the medical profession. Presumably there’s a professional organization to advise doctors and medical students. But surely the average patient would be clueless about these certification issues. (“Oh, you are certified by the National Board of Ophthalmology? Sorry, my insurance only covers visits to an American Board of Ophthalmology certified doctor.”)
QUESTIONING (PRESUMED) AUTHORITIES
We see shades of this outside the world of certification. “Super Objective Scientific Plastics Research Organization” (whose website you may visit while researching toxins in plastics) is nothing more than “Petroleum Giant Inc.”‘s PR department with carefully selected pro-plastic information. The “Stop Bill C-crackdown-on-natural-medicine” website is funded by “The Acai Berry Scammers of Canada” … who may in turn be simply a crafty department of “Big Pharma Monopoly Inc.” who have the resources to pull off the best double scam in history: reap the profits from selling supplements advertised as natural (but that don’t actually work) and then expose said natural medicine scams to create laws that make it impossible to sell herbal remedies, leaving pharmaceuticals as the only option.
(As you can see, my years of asking, “Who is really behind this?” have sharpened my creative skills!)
DO YOU KNOW WHO’S ACCREDITING YOUR CHILDREN?
Most of us are aware of the need to question who is behind the sites we visit online and how objective or reliable its contents are. But, when it comes to certification and accreditation, we can really be fooled by authoritative sounding organizations and institutions. We still tend to think that it means something if a person or program is certified or accredited. It may, or it may not.
ACCREDITED HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS IN CANADA
Fortunately (for simplicity’s sake), in Canada there really is only one accrediting body for high school credits: the provincial Ministry of Education. If you are inquiring about earning Canadian high school credits and want to ensure they are the official credits that count towards an official high school diploma, the answer you want to hear is that the program is accredited by the Ministry of Education. You want to hear that the program offers a ministry- or government-accredited high school diploma, not an equivalent diploma. There is only one “high school diploma” in each province, whether earned through correspondence, through a private school, at an alternative education centre, through a combination of night and/or summer school classes or at a regular public school – it’s the government-sanctioned, provincial diploma issued by the Ministry of Education.
ACCREDITED HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS IN THE UNITED STATES
In the US, however, there are a handful of organizations with super-serious, boring names that do accredit US high schools on behalf of the US government. Not surprisingly, there are also a few organizations with super-serious, boring names that offer accreditation to schools and programs who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for accreditation through the government-recognized organizations. So, if you’re considering a US-based program that claims to be certified, you have a little more work to do to figure out which body certifies the program and then whether that body is one of the government-recognized ones.
RECOGNITION OF HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS BY CANADIAN UNIVERSITIES
Canadian universities only recognize high school diplomas from the US that the US government would have recognized themselves. Students with a differently-accredited US diploma can not apply as regular high school students. They can, of course, apply for alternative admission (for example, as homeschoolers) and their diplomas can be considered in the admission process. But, Canadian universities can only accept a US government-recognized high school diploma to satisfy the “has a high school diploma” requirement. If you have one of the “other” diplomas, you do not, in the Canadian university’s eyes, have a “high school diploma” and you can’t apply as if you do. So, that accredited diploma you earn may not come with the door-opening credentials you expect because of the organization offering the accreditation.
Not everyone needs accreditation for their high school level studies. But if you do in fact need a government high school diploma, then you need to find out who is accrediting the program and confirm that the diploma is government-recognized.