Is Accreditation Really Necessary?

This post was originally written before Pacific Sands Academy offered an accredited option. It has been edited to reflect Pacific Sands Academy’s current offerings.

Many people worry about accreditation of their potential schools. Is your school accredited? It’s a common question I hear as I discuss my program with people. And my answer is no, Pacific Sands Academy is not accredited. However, we have developed a partnership with West River Academy which is accredited by the National Association for the Legal Support of Alternative Schools. Now, families who join our program can chose to be a part of Pacific Sands Academy (non accredited) or the Pacific Sands Program of West River Academy (accredited). The accreditation by NALSAS assures the public that West River Academy complies with all legal requirements and performs the services that it offers. Students of the Pacific Sands Program of West River Academy will receive enrollment letters, transcripts and report cards from West River Academy, not Pacific Sands Academy.

It took a few years of running Pacific Sands Academy before I developed this West River relationship, and I’m glad I have. The director of West River Academy and I have a great working relationship and a certain kinship in our philosophies of education. Functionally, there is not difference for families between being enrolled in Pacific Sands Academy or the Pacific Sands Program of West River Academy, except that their paperwork will look a little different.   I have found that most families choose the option of joining The Pacific Sands Program of West River Academy. It adds a layer of credibility and comfort to this alternative path they are choosing. The accreditation, we have found, is helpful to for students returning to high school or choosing to go to trade schools.

However, I do want to give a little plug for the non-Accredited path:

The question of accreditation is a common myth that needs to be dispelled.

Accreditation is an entirely voluntary process, done by private, nongovernmental agencies.  These independent agencies charge big money for accrediting schools. It’s an arduous process for the schools, and often takes a couple years to complete. Accreditation generally means  that the administration and faculty of a particular school have invested significant amount of time, energy and resources going through a process of demonstrating that they follow and adhere to state standards and traditional teaching practices. This sounds good, but many of the “worst schools’ in the US are still accredited.

And for brand new small progressive schools accreditation is nearly impossible.

Accreditation is NOT related to a schools legal status in the state where is has its offices.

Accreditation sort of serves the purpose of weeding out “diploma mills” and other educational scams, but the standards used for this process are wide and varied. Furthermore, there are “accreditation mills” that accredit “diploma mills.”

Most colleges accept homeschool students. And getting a diploma from a non accredited high school is very similar to a homeschool diploma if you have a transcript to back up the learning that happened in the teen years.  In addition, most colleges require that students complete SATs and ACTs to demonstrate some level of academic competency, and preparing for these tests can obviously be done without the structure of an accredited school. Here is a link that links to over 1,000 colleges that accept homeschoolers, and by extension would likely accept unaccredited high school diplomas with transcripts as well.

In investigating alternative programs, you might ask about the high school transcript produced. Do they even offer one? At some online schools, young people take a quick test and get a high school diploma. This may serve some families—for numerous reasons. I’m not necessarily opposed to diploma mills– as I believe that high school diplomas (even from accredited schools) don’t mean as much as some people believe.

A major truth here is this:  Accreditation applies only to which school one attends, not what the individual student has learned. 

Imagine these possible scenarios:

Johnny dispassionately slides through  an accredited high school completing minimal requirements, and gets straight D’s. He receives his high school diploma from an accredited school, along with a transcript that shows he earned D’s in all his classes.

Sophia drops out of school to play in her band. At 18, she uses a diploma mill to get an unaccredited high school diploma. She has no high school transcript except for what she did before dropping out.

Dylan yearns to leave school and rock climb. He joins a private unaccredited school like Pacific Sands Academy – where he is supported in following his passions. He earns a diploma from an unaccredited high school, along with a transcript that contains all kinds of interesting courses such as: Earth Sciences: Formation of Mountains and Cliffs, PE: rock climbing, Geography of the Sierra Nevadas, and Natural History.   He also completes an online portfolio that he can use as he moves to his next steps in life.

Samantha homeschooled her entire life. Her mom helped her complete a high school transcript (or hires Pacific Sands Academy to do the same thing). They create a homeschool diploma and highlight her interests in theater and political activism in her transcript. Her Transcript includes “normal sounding courses” such as English 9, Algebra 1, World History, and electives such as Musical Theater, and Political Activism. Her “school” was unaccredited as well.

Accreditation is really not the issue here. The issue is what kind of learning happened for the teen?  What kind of education did they receive? In the above examples, I would argue that Johnny had the worst education (though he went to the accredited school).  Sophia (the band “dropout”) followed her dreams, and probably getting a decent business and music education in doing so; Dylan and Samantha followed their dreams as well studying and becoming competent in subjects that interested them.

In conclusion,  I believe it’s important to consider your teen’s education  before accreditation.  Consider in what environment your teen is most likely to learn best? A school where he is bored and dispassionate? Or out in the world living a life of self directed education with or without a school such as Pacific Sands Academy supporting him?

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