Lisa Haver and Deborah Grill, leaders of the activist group Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, wrote a commentary calling out the school board for its deference to charters, which are now asking to be held to lowered standards.

Forget about transparency or accountability if you are in the charter industry. Even the school board asks permission from the charters to regulate them and holds closed-door meetings to negotiate what they are willing to do.

They begin:

Philadelphia charter school operators and advocates have long maintained that if they were freed from the bureaucracy and regulations imposed on public schools, charters would be able to quickly and consistently raise student achievement. The School Reform Commission bought into that argument, approving new charters in almost every year of its 17-year reign.

The SRC also turned over control of more than 20 neighborhood schools to charter operators through its Renaissance initiative, whose provisions include “stringent academic requirements” that would be used “as a basis for a decision to renew, not renew or revoke a Renaissance school at the end of its [five-year] term.”

But when the data show many of those schools failing to achieve anything close to the “dramatic gains” promised, the SRC did not hold those charters accountable.

Recently, charter operators have actually lobbied the District to lower the standards by which their schools are evaluated. A June 11 Philadelphia Public School Notebook/WHYY story, “Philadelphia School District nearing new accountability rules for charters,” revealed that secret negotiations had taken place between District and charter officials about changes in the rating system, which “was developed with substantial input from the charter operators themselves.” This is not the first time charter operators and District officials have met in secret: They conducted closed-door meetings from fall 2016 through spring 2017 to formulate public policy about charters.

Belmont Charter CEO Jennifer Faustman argued that it’s not fair to compare charters who took over poor-performing District schools, saying, “You’re basically being challenged to exceed the District.”

But hasn’t that been the justification for creating and expanding charters — that they would always do better than public schools? Belmont Charter would not sign its 2017 renewal agreement, citing unfairness of conditions, even though Belmont failed to meet standards in all three categories—academic, financial, and organizational.

District officials contend that the new rubric is “fair” to charter operators, but do not explain how it is fair to the students or their parents. Theoretically, a charter school could earn a 45 percent academic grade even with near-zero proficiency rates. That is, a charter could be renewed as long as it showed improved attendance and growth — if not actual academic achievement. Incredibly, the charter coalition finds that expectation too high. They are holding out for a 40 percent passing grade.

Then-SRC Chair Estelle Richman told reporters that the charter “performance framework” has undergone “more than 60 negotiated changes” in the last year and that the “charter agreements incorporate a revised performance framework which provides charter schools with transparent and predictable accountability and ensures charter schools are quality options for students and families.”

Transparency, apparently, should be extended to charter operators but not to the public. If charters are truly public schools, as charter operators contend, then all policy discussions, including changes in the rating system, must be open to the public. Nor did Richman explain why the SRC felt the need to consult those being regulated on how they wished to be regulated.

Last month, in one of its final actions, the SRC approved 10 charter renewals. Four others, including two Mastery charters, were not on the agenda, reportedly because they rejected conditions suggested by the District.

Who is in charge? Why no accountability? Why are standards higher for public schools than for charters? What about all those promises?