Caprice Young is a star of the charter industry in California. She was a member and president of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District. She was founder of the California Charter Schools Association, the well-heeled lobbyists for the private charter sector, which fights off accountability and transparency with the help of billionaires like Reed Hastings and Eli Broad. She is a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy. She led an embattled chain of Gulen charter schools in Los Angeles called Magnolia.

And now she will serve as superintendent of California’s floundering “Learn4Life” Centers.

The press release from Learn4Life says the chain enrolls 20,000 students in California, Ohio, and Michigan, but the Broad Center says it enrolls 40,000, in those states.

The Learn4Life charter schools are basically operated in malls and storefronts. Students drop in once a week to pick up their assignments. The schools collect huge sums from the state for low-quality “education,” if you can call it “education.”

Investigative reporter Will Huntsberry of the Voice of San Diego has written a series of blistering exposes of Learn4Life. See here and here and here.

Carol Burris wrote about the “Learn4Life” Centers in her report called Charters and Consequences.

Bryan Juan was falling behind in high school credits. Desperate to graduate on time, he left his public high school and enrolled in Desert Sands Charter High School. “I started off ok,” he said. “But even though I went almost every day and worked hard, I could not catch up and do all the paper packets—especially on my own. I got discouraged. I left and went back to my public school.”

Bryan was not alone in his failure at Desert Sands. The 2015 four-year graduation rate of the charter was a dismal 11.5%. Even worse, over 42% of the students who should have graduated that year dropped out of school altogether.

Desert Sands Charter High School enrolls nearly 2000 students; almost all are Latino. It is part of the Antelope Valley School District, but you will not find it listed on Antelope’s website. Nor will you find Desert Sands at the Lancaster, California address given on its own website. Bryan’s classroom was located in an office building across from a Walmart, nearly 100 miles away from both Antelope Valley Schools and the Desert Sand’s address.

Desert Sands is one of 15 independent learning center charter schools, which are defined as non-classroom based independent study sites, connected to Learn4Life, a network of schools that claim to provide personalized learning. On its website, Learn4Life tells prospective families that it connects students to resource centers so that they can receive one on one instruction because “no two students are alike.”

Bryan’s classmates, Mayra and Edith, who also returned to the public school from Desert Sands, found their experience at the charter to be anything but “personalized.” They described education at Desert Sands as no more than a continuous cycle of paper packets, optional tutor appointments and tests that students continue to take until they pass.

Three calls to three different Learn4Life charter schools confirmed that the instructional program was driven by paper-packets that students pick up and complete. After packet completion, students take a test to earn credit. Although students can make an appointment for help with the packet, they are required to come by only once a week.

Of the 15 charters authorized to Learn4Life operated corporations, 13 are required to operate high-school grade levels. Each school has its own name, principal
and sponsoring district, but uniqueness ends there. The schools are in reality a web of resource centers sprinkled in office buildings, strip malls and even former liquor stores. They advertise themselves with nearly identical websites with the same pictures, quotes, descriptions of program, principal letters and a common phone number andaddress. The homepage of the Desert Sands High School is indistinguishable from the homepage of Diego Valley, as well as the homepages of 11 other high schools that are part of the chain. All that differs is the name of the school.

Diego Plus is one of the many corporations operated by Learn4Life. Diego Plus and its three Learn4 Life charter schools (Diego Valley, Diego Hills and Diego Springs), are defendants in a lawsuit filed by Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego Unified School District, and Sweetwater Union High School District. The three charters opened their resource centers in the three complaining districts without notifying them. They were authorized by and are the responsibility of the Julian, Dehesa and Borrego Springs school districts, each of which receives considerable income for supervising these charters located far beyond their boundaries.

In total, the three Learn4Life Diego Plus charters enroll almost 2000 students. Their respective four-year 2015 graduation rates are 10.8%, 19.3%, and 0%. 45% of the students in that Diego Valley cohort dropped out of the charter school. It does not appear that long distance supervision of storefront schools is working out well for kids.

Transparency and accountability, as well as legal efforts to force legal compliance, have been stymied and complicated by the continual changes in Learn4Life corporate names and addresses. A recent petition to the court on behalf of the Grossmont Union High School District lists 13 corporate names located at the same Learn4Life address. In 2014, there were no less than eight not-for-profit corporations listed at that Lancaster address that filed tax returns.

Each of those eight corporations received funding from the state of California. During the 2013-14 school year, the sum of all government grants given to those eight related corporations was a whopping $61,476,306. About 11,000 students are enrolled in the 15 Learn4Life schools.

Officers of the Learn4Life corporations play musical chairs with titles, often receiving compensation from several different corporations. For example, Steve Gocke is listed as the Superintendent of Desert Sands Charter. In 2014, Gocke received $139,750 for serving as the secretary for the two different Learn4Life charter schools. Dante Simi served as the CEO of six different Learn4Life related corporations, and the CFO of two others. According to the organizations’ 990s, his
2014 compensation was $270,200. Dante’s son-in-law, Skip Hansen, serves as a Senior Vice President, and received a six- figure salary for his services. Simi’s wife Linda is also listed as a key employee of one of the corporations.

Perhaps all of the above attempts at obfuscation might be forgiven if the schools were actually getting the job done. But they are not. The average 2015 graduation rate for the schools was 13.73%. Two of the schools had graduation rates of 0%. Dropout rates for cohorts ranged from 27.6% to 53.9%.

Are these alarming rates solely a result of serving at-risk students? Although Learn4Life advertises that its mission is to serve students who dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, its schools take students as early as ninth-grade, including those who simply want a quick and easy way to graduate early. There is no requirement for prior failure before entering the schools.