Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency

About PHAA, School Code# 392057

PHAA's standards are based upon seven principles:

  1. Homeschool graduates should be literate. One joke asks, "What is the difference between someone who is illiterate and someone who is functionally illiterate?" The answer, "The functional illiterate has a high school diploma." When putting together the requirements for PHAA's diploma, we tried to design requirements that would insure that the same thing could not be said of our graduates. They should be able to read, write, and speak well.
  2. Requirements should be construed in flexible ways. Homeschoolers are round pegs and graduation requirements are square holes. Our idea was to make the square holes flexible enough so that they could fit round pegs. For example, people will have a choice on whether to use textbooks or not, on whether a course consists mostly of study or mostly of real-life activities, and on whether to teach a half-year course in a half-year block or spread it out throughout the school year.
  3. Homeschooling Families Can be Trusted. Homeschooling families can be trusted to do meaningful activities to fulfill reasonable requirements.
  4. Outside Structure Can be Helpful. There is usually a certain amount of power sharing between parents and teenagers, and it is not always easy for parents to get their teenagers to do reading, writing, or a particular subject area (depending upon the student). With PHAA requirements, the parents can be on their teenagers' side helping them to do the required work, but not have to be the "heavy" who makes the requirements.
  5. Requirements Should be Clear. We tried to specify the minimum requirements so clearly that students can know exactly what they have to do in order to meet them.
  6. Diplomas Mean More if Someone Outside the Family is Involved. Since Pennsylvania families must already have evaluators certify each year that they are giving the student an appropriate education, it is natural for the evaluator to sign the transcripts and diplomas along with the supervisor of the home education program (i.e. parent).
  7. Graduates are not Drop Outs. Since PHAA's diploma is based upon meeting the requirements of the Pennsylvania Home Education Law, we cannot award diplomas to people who "drop out" from complying with the home education law. So, on the final transcript, the supervisor of the home education program has to certify statement that his program was in compliance with the homeschool law at the time of graduation. We will withdraw the diploma if we ever learn that the family was not in compliance with the law.

The remainder of this page is a brief history of PHAA which explains how we came to be what we are today.

1988. First PA Home Education Law Passes

Before 1988, Pennsylvania prosecuted more homeschoolers than any other state. The Pennsylvania Homeschoolers statewide homeschool newsletter was at the forefront of the lobbying effort. State Representatives Ron Cowell and Joseph Pitts were our champions, and Pitts wrote the first draft of our bill, which he modeled after the bill that had recently passed for Pennsylvania Christian schools. Christian schools file affidavits, so homeschoolers would file affidavits. Christian schools were required to teach certain subjects, so homeschools were required to teach the same subjects, Christian schools had graduation requirements and thus could award diplomas, so homeschoolers also had graduation requirements and could award diplomas. Joe Pitts bill had many requirements added to it, including evaluation requirements, but the high school graduation requirements never changed.

1990. Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency founded

There were always a few isolated people here and there who were homeschooling, but the numbers were very small until John Holt and Raymond Moore started promoting homeschooling nationwide in the 1980s. When the homeschooling law passed, almost all of the students who had always been homeschooled were elementary age, so the topic of high school graduation never came up. During the 1990-1991 school year, Howard and Susan Richman, editors of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers newsletter started hearing from families who had high school seniors, so we asked the Pennsylvania Department of Education who gives the diplomas that are specified by Home Education Law: Was it the parents? Was it the evaluators? They came back with a unexpected reply: that homeschool organizations should issue the diplomas because they would have an interest in maintaining the quality of their diplomas. So we founded Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency to accredit the diplomas of home education programs in Pennsylvania.

1991. First PHAA Graduation Ceremony

We organized our first statewide graduation ceremony on July 9 following a dinner in the Cotillion Ballroom at the New Villa Inn near Harrisburg. Six graduates took part and they were all required to speak, telling about their homeschooling experience. Representative Joseph Pitts, one of the champions of the Pennsylvania Home Education Law, was our first commencement speaker. We have organized graduation ceremonies every year since. Currently we have a ceremony in Eastern PA, near Valley Forge and in Western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.

1992. PHAA recognized by PDE as an Accreditation Agency.

During the 1991-1992 school year, the a PHAA senior applied to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency for a state-grant for college, but was turned down as not being a high school graduate. So Representative Ron Cowell, one of our champions and the chairman of the House Education Committee intervened. Soon the Pennsylvania Department of Education recognized Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency as an accreditation agency and PHAA diplomas as the equivalent of public school diplomas. Then the State Board of Education rewrote its regulations so as to provide for recognition of diplomas issued by homeschool accreditation agencies. Two other homeschool organizations (BCEI and Erie County Homeschoolers) were recognized under the same provision. Later, additional diploma programs were recognized under a policy issued by the PA Department of Education.

1993. First Issue The Excelsior published

We have published our student newsletter ever since 1993, when PHAA took over The Excelsior, a newsletter founded by homeschooled students John Bert and August Beddingfield. The Excelsior has been published quarterly ever since then. Each issue is filled with student writing and also includes notices from the PHAA office.

1996. PHAA incorporated as a Non-Profit Corporation

Until 1996, PHAA was an unincorporated organization. On January 1, 1996, PHAA was incorporated as a non-profit corporation with a board of directors to insure that it continues into the distant future. At our annual membership meetingsm, members (which includes evaluators, parents and board members) elect the Board of Directors who in turn elect our officers. When changes in the bylaws are proposed at a membership meeting they are voted on through a written ballot in The Excelsior.

1997. First PHAA Conference

The first PHAA conference was held on August 1, 1997, at the Penn State Conference Center Hotel. We have been holding an annual conference ever since. Our annual membership meetings, formerly held just before one of our annual graduation ceremonies, now occur at a session during our conferences.

2003. First PHAA Photo ID

In response to new requirements that students taking SAT tests show up at the testing site with photo ID's, PHAA established a Photo ID card in 2003. They are still available as an option for PHAA students at the modest cost of $10.

2005. PHAA Gets its own Website

In 2005, PHAA got its own URL and website: Full info about the PHAA diploma program and an online store can be found there.

2005. Membership Votes Definition of "Honors" Courses

Until 2006, whether or not a course was specified as "Honors" on the PHAA transcript was left to the discretion of evaluators. This led to some problems with some homeschool transcripts specifying "Honors" for almost every course, including physical education. In order to prevent such abuse, in 2006 our membership voted to specify that the word "Honors" should only appear for a course in which the student achieves special honors or a course in which the student demonstrates special initiative. Evaluators who put the word "Honors" on the transcript must specify, in the evaluation letter, the reason why the course was considered to be an "honors" course.

2009. Membership votes to Require Narrative Evaluations

In 2009 our membership voted to protect PHAA from a trend within the homeschooling community in which evaluators issue identical form-letter evaluations to every evaluee. PHAA evaluation letters create pictures of what the students did during the year and tell about excellence in their education programs. They translate easily into college recommendation letters and since we attach all of the evaluation letters to every transcript that we send out (at the parent or student's request) they help recommend our students and graduates, helping them achieve their goals.

2014. New PA Home Ed Law Recognizes Homeschool Diploma Organizations

Prior to 2014, recognition of homeschool diploma organizations was only written into regulation and policy which could possibly be changed. The new 2014 made it impossible for the PA Department of Education to ever withdraw that policy.

2016. PHAA takes over BCEI Transcripts

In 2016, PHAA's fellow diploma organiation, Buxmont Christian Educational Institute (BCEI), ceased operation and PHAA took over its records and began sending out transcripts for BCEI graduates at the requests of their parents or graduates. One of the reasons for choosing a diploma program diploma over a parent-issued diploma, is that diploma programs insure that their transcripts and records will always be available to insure that graduation can be proven whenever such proof is needed.

2016. PHAA developes Online Transcript Program

In order to insure that our transcripts would all have a uniform appearance and include the students Grade Point Average, PHAA developed an online transcript program in the fall of 2016. Befoe that, PHAA transcripts were filled out by evaluators using Microsoft Word forms, many of which had been changed when adapted by PHAA evaluators.

2019. Excelsior Moves Online

Beginning with the Fall 2019 issue, the Excelsior stopped publication as a printed and mailed-out newsletter and moved online. It is now available as a .pdf file on the PHAA website. The link is at the bottom of almost every page on the website, but you need a PHAA password to access it.

2020. PHAA Conference Moves Online

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PHAA began to start holding its annual conference online, through Zoom. The cost is free, but you have to have access to the Zoom links to the sessions in order to attend. Those links are made available to PHAA members who are encouraged to share them with other homeschoolers in Pennsylvania. The annual PHAA membership meeting is online: the last session of the conference.