Campaign For Recognition of Homeschool Diplomas
by Howard Richman
Sometimes you don't know what you have until someone tries to take
it away. That's the way it was in November 1988 when the opponents of
home education tried to take the requirements for graduation out of the
Pennsylvania home education bill which passed the next month. Were they
trying to make things easier for homeschoolers by eliminating
requirements? I think not.
These were not friends of home education. A look at the other
things they tried to change (while the bill was in the Appropriations
Committee) makes that clear. For example, they tried to substitute the
local school board for the impartial hearing officer (if a
superintendent told you that you couldn't homeschool you could appeal to
the school board!). Similarly, they tried to substitute standardized
achievement tests for the evaluator chosen by the parents (you could
only homeschool if your child scored higher each year in every subject
Many homeschoolers think of requirements in a negative way. But
graduation requirements have a positive side to them. They mean that
homeschooled students can get high school diplomas that are legal in
Beginning when our home education law passed in 1988, I (Howard) have led
the fight for recognition of homeschoolers diplomas. This battle has not always been
easy. I have not only had to negotiate with the educational establishment, but I have also had
to battle anti-diploma and anti-standards segments within the homeschooling community. Here is a brief
- On December 21, 1988, a home education law was passed in Pennsylvania which specified that homeschooled children could graduate
from high school at home, but didn't specify who would issue the diploma. At first I assumed that the parents would issue the diploma.
But then I was told about advice being given to school districts by the Bucks County Law Firm Curtin and Heefner.
They were telling the districts that they did not have to give high school diplomas to home educated children because the home
educated children could apply for a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma from the Department of Education under existing State Board of Education
regulations. So I wrote to Joseph Bard at the Department of Education and he sent me the relevant regulations.
Unfortunately, they did not clarify matters as much as I had hoped. The existing regulations only awarded
the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma to people who had either completed a full year of college, or had passed the G.E.D. examination.
- So I wrote back to Joseph Bard at the PA Department of Education and asked which of three alternatives he favored:
- School districts must award high school diplomas to home educated students who meet the graduation requirements, or
- The Department of Education must create a new regulation which awards the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma to applicants who have successfully met the requirements for high school graduation in home education programs, or
- Supervisors of home education programs may give their students high school diplomas which are officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
- On July 11, 1989 he wrote back:
As regards your suggested solutions to the diploma problem: I believe your second suggestion of the Department
creating a new regulation to award the Commonwealth diploma to applicants who have successfully completed a home education program has the most merit.
Unfortunately, none of your suggestions can come to fruition without considerable time and effort. This is something to discuss.
- On July 17, 1989, I wrote him saying:
We are very interested in your reply about high school graduations, and will be gathering information about the various options.
We will also be in touch with Rep. Joe Pitts and Rep. Ron Cowell to get advice from them. We will be taking information gained to the official Parent Educators of Pennsylvania Steering Committee meeting on October 21 where we can begin to study this matter.
- Internal politics within the homeschooling community then delayed my next letter.
Parent Educators of Pennsylvania disbanded.
I let the diploma matter drop for more than a year.
My next letter to the Department of Education, dated September 22, 1990, was carefully crafted
with input from a "multitude of counselors" (Proverbs 11:14). I sent
the first draft of the letter to 80 support group leaders (all of those listed in the support group lsting of the PA Homeschoolers newsletter,
including the Pennsylvania Home Education Network).
Among those who responded to that draft were Claudia Joye,
Delores Anthony, Gary Robbins, Mireya Taylor, Jerry Schmoyer, Amanda Hyldahl, Fullis
Conroy, Jane Rimmer, Jamie Burns, Kim Huber, Jay Snyder, Cindy Smith, Evelyn Apple,
Pam Ingram, Ann Reynolds, and Nancy Robertson. Several leaders gave me helpful
suggestions which I tried to incorporate into my final draft including Tom Eldredge, Jim Means, Mary Hudzinski,
Barbara Snider, Gerry McMonigal, Karen Boyd, Tom Murphy, Madalene Murphy,
Peter Bergson, and Barbara Waller. Of course any blame for shortcomings of the final
draft was my responsibility, not theirs. The letter was designed to get the PA Department of Education to award their
Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma to homeschool graduates, while not
precluding any other diploma options (such as correspondence school diplomas
or diplomas awarded by parents to their children).
At that time I had not even dreamt of the idea of starting a diploma program.
If my letter had succeeded, the Department of Education would have awarded diplomas to homeschoolers!
- On September 27, 1990, the Pennsylvania Home Education Network wrote a letter to the Department of Education
arguing that the Department of Education should not award diplomas to homeschoolers but should instead, if they wanted to do something, regulate evaluators.
- On September 27, 1990, Michael Farris, President of the
Home School Legal Defense Association, wrote me a letter urging that we
issue diplomas through our state-wide organizations instead of trying to
get the Department of Education to issue the diplomas. He wrote:
Many state home schooling organizations are issuing their
own diplomas. I would encourage this in Pennsylvania. I would
encourage the diplomas to be issued in a form which looks very
official. At one or more graduation ceremonies certain government
officials could be invited to speak to give further "endorsement" to the
diploma. Harvard and Yale do not have state-endorsed diplomas.
Quality is its own endorsement.
Mike Farris was urging us to issue diplomas that look official. He
didn't know that we were about to get an endorsement from the
Department of Education which would make the diplomas not only look
official, but be official.
- On October 2, 1990, the Pennsylvania Department of Education decided not to
award the Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma to homeschool graduates, but instead came up with the
idea that bona fide homeschool organizations should award the diplomas because, as the new Chief of the Division of Advisory Services wrote me:
"It seems more appropriate to me to have the credential for home schoolers issued by a home schoolers organization. The monitoring and evaluation could then be done by individuals familiar with those programs and the quality control could be enforced by those individuals who have a vested interest in maintaining that quality."
- I was thrilled with that response. It meant that they were going to let the home education community
stand on its own two feet. It meant that homeschoolers would have many choices for diploma standards, not just an arbitrary
standard set by the government. In response to that letter in the
winter of 1990-1991 I founded Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency (PHAA) and we began to enroll our first members.
By the way, PHAA is a non-profit organization whose bylaws
can be found on the web .
- On July 9, 1991, PHAA held its first graduation ceremony at the New Villa Inn. Rep. Pitts was the commencement speaker.
- On June 11, 1992, Joseph Bard, Commissioner for Elementary and
Secondary Education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, wrote
a letter to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency
(PHEAA), the state agency that oversees scholarship grants and loans.
Mr. Bard wrote:
The question of eligibility for PHEAA grants and loans by
Pennsylvania students receiving their education through Home Education
Programs has been posed by Dr. Howard B. Richman, Pennsylvania
Home Education in Pennsylvania is addressed in Section
1327.1 (Act 169 of 1988) of the Public School Code of 1949. The code
prescribes attendance and curriculum requirements that mirror those of
the public school system. In addition, the code requires the program
supervisor to maintain specific documentation to demonstrate that
appropriate education is occurring. This documentation is annually
submitted to the superintendent of the public school district of
residence as monitor of the program.
Dr. Richman, founder of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers
organization, has furnished the Department of Education the standards
and procedures established by the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers for
evaluation of a home education student's education portfolio. The
Department has been asked to review those standards and procedures to
render an opinion as to the acceptability of these student's
credentials for PHEAA grants and loans.
We have reviewed the standards and procedures of the
Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency and find them
acceptable, therefore, I request PHEAA consider any student receiving a
diploma from the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency as
eligible for a PHEAA grant and loan.
In his reply, Gary Smith at PHEAA responded:
Specifically, at issue is the provision in the State Grant
statute that requires the Department to make a determination whether a
school "...provides a course of instruction...and maintains standards
of instruction substantially equivalent to those of the public high
schools located in the Commonwealth."
Your letter indicates that the Pennsylvania Department of
Education has reviewed the standards and procedures of the Pennsylvania
Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency and finds them acceptable.
Therefore, effective with the 1992-93 academic year the Agency will now
accept a Pennsylvania Homeschoolers diploma as satisfaction of the
Agency's high school graduation test for State Grant purposes.
- From 1992 to 1994, during Governor Casey's administration, we helped two additional organizations
(Buxmont Christian Educational Institute and Erie County Homeschoolers) get added to the list recognized
by the PA Department of Education and the Department wrote letters to Penn State and
Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency recognizing all three homeschool organizations.
- In 1998 Governor Ridge's administration refused to add Mason Dixon Homeschoolers Diploma Program to the list until they had put together a written policy, so Mary Hudzinski and I, in consultation with Erie and Buxmont, negotiated the written policy which led to the Department of Education putting together a Home Education Application for Recognition which is available on the PA Department
of Education's website. There are currently seven homeschool organizations on the list recognized by the
PA Department of Education to give diplomas to graduates of home education programs.
- In January 29, 2001, I wrote the Department asking them to clarify,
on their website that the graduates with diplomas from these organizations would have the
"high school diploma or its equivalent" required to teach their own children, and on April 3, 2001, Sarah Pearce
It is the opinion of the Pennsylvania Department of Education that Individuals who either receive a
diploma from an organization recognized by PDE to award a home education diploma... are qualified under
§13-1327.1(a) to become a Supervisor of a home education program.... The diploma from a recognized organization or letter from the superintendent
are "equivalent" to a high school diploma and thereby qualifies an individual to be a Supervisor of a home education program.
- From 2000-2001, Barb Page, conducted a campaign of half truths about Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency. We responded to many of them in
the Rest of the Story page on this website. In August 2001 her campaign culminated when she lodged a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) abut PHAA in which she wrote:
I am convinced after researching the operations of this organization, reviewing their 990s, interviewing those enrolled in their program (they provide no instruction, they simply award degrees based upon educational and life experiences) that they fit the description of what is termed a 'diploma mill' described by the BBB on this website: http://www.bbb.org/library/diplomamills.asp
In our response to this complaint we were able to cite correspondence from the Pennsylvania Department of Education recognizing our diploma as being the equivalent of a high school diploma for many purposes. That was the end of this complaint.
The major difference between what the BBB describes as a diploma mill and what this organization 'awards' is that this organization awards high school diplomas.
The only authority granted to PHAA by the Pennsylvania Department of Education has been to designate that the credentials awarded by PHAA qualifies the recipient to receive post-secondary grants....
I have exhausted many of the avenues open to me in my objections to the fraudulent practices of this organization with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Attorney General's Office in Pennsylvania. They have not responded in any manner to my concerns....
- As a steering committee member of a homeschool coalition called PAFREE, Barb Page helped shape the language
of a homeschooling bill that was being discussed by homeschooling leaders and homeschooling dads who were state
representatives. Her fellow PAFREE steering committee member, Ellen Kramer, a promoter of Catholic correspondence school diplomas, also opposed continued recognition of homeschool organization diplomas.
- On December 18, 2001, Rep. Samuel Rohrer, a state representative and homeschool dad, called a meeting to forge a compromise between Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency and those who favored parent-issued diplomas. At that meeting, we agreed to accept their parent-issued diplomas so long as they also recognized our organization-issued diplomas. Rep. Rohrer included the compromise language in the January 22 draft of his bill and the very next day I e-mailed him thanking him for listening to our deep concerns. The relevant language from the January 22, 2002, draft was the following:
(d) The Department of Education shall maintain a list of non-profit home education organizations whose standards and procedures for evaluating home education students' portfolios in grades nine through twelve meet the graduation requirements of this section. The department shall also maintain a list of distance learning programs whose standards and procedures for grades nine through twelve meet the graduation requirements of this section. Diplomas awarded by these home education organizations, distance learning programs, or by the supervisor of a home education program to any student who has met the requirements of this section shall be recognized as a valid high school diploma.
- PAFREE steering committee member, Ellen Kramer, however, was not satisfied with this compromise.
On the Catholic Homeschoolers of Pennsylvania webpage she wrote: "The legislature could choose to discontinue the choice of parent-issued diplomas if they are singled out through being specifically mentioned in a bill."
- Rep. Rohrer did not stick to the compromise reached. After the January 22 draft, every succeeding draft, including the one that he introduced as House Bill 2560 on May 1, 2002, eliminated all PA Department of Education policies that would affect individual home education programs, including the policy that recognizes home
education organizations to give diplomas to graduates of home education programs.. During a meeting in my state representative's office, we put a conference call through to Rep. Rohrer's office and I asked his assistant, Jim Cox, why he had taken out the language that would have protected our diploma. He said that he did so in order to prevent a "hierarchy" of homeschool diplomas. In other words, those who favor parent-issued diplomas knew that if they didn't eliminate our diploma, their diploma would be lower on the hierarchy!
- We are now in the midst of a battle within
the homeschooling community and in the legislature to preserve the homeschool organization diploma option which
continues to make Pennsylvania one of the best states
for high school at home in the nation.
Click here for more information about homeschooling in Pennsylvania
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