Lincoln Elementary School is the first public, non-charter school in Oakland to receive a National Blue Ribbon Award from the United States Department of Education. It was one of just 21 public or private schools in California to be honored this year for academic excellence, and among 304 nationwide.
More than 75 percent of Lincoln’s students come from low-income families, and about 90 percent enter kindergarten with limited knowledge of English, Principal John Melvin said.
But get this: 84 percent tested proficient or higher this year on the state’s reading test, and 96 percent showed proficiency in math. Every one of its fourth-grade students met the state’s targets in math, and 93 percent tested at the “advanced,” or the highest, level.
The 600-student school is in Oakland’s Chinatown, home of many Asian immigrant families. Melvin said the school has supportive parents, students who are eager to learn and “a critical mass of expert teachers” who share teaching practices. Many of the teachers speak fluent English and Cantonese, he said, which makes parents — and new arrivals — feel comfortable at the school.
“Families and students feel like their home language and culture is respected and welcomed,” he said.
Lincoln uses a bilingual education model for some of its Cantonese-speakers in grades K to 3 (not to improve their Chinese language skills, but to help them learn academic content as they learn English). They also use Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) material with all students to encourage higher-level thinking.
Melvin said the school recently invested in technology to allow students to work at their own pace. “A fifth-grade child could be working at a seventh-grade level in math,” he said.
Lincoln was nominated in December for the award, and its test scores — already among the highest in the district — have only risen since. While the district sets proficiency as a goal, Lincoln aims for “advanced.”
I often hear complaints about the obsession with the quick fix, the one-size-fits-all solution. Lincoln is a big school with experienced teachers and, in some grades, a bilingual curriculum. No flashy initiatives that I can see.
When I mentioned to Melvin that Arne Duncan was coming to Oakland tomorrow (roundtable at Merritt College that’s unfortunately closed to the fourth estate), he said it would be fitting for the secretary of education to stop by.
It’s not on his schedule, but who knows?