K-12 Outreach Creates Online School Improvement Resource

April 29, 2014

MI Toolkit Laptop

By Kathleen McKee Snyder

Michigan State University has been an integral part of Michigan’s MI Excel Statewide System of Support for the last seven years. In 2012, the university’s Office of K-12 Outreach became a key partner in the effort to assist MI Excel schools, which are working to improve achievement (Priority schools) and to reduce achievement gaps (Focus schools).

Instrumental in that effort has been the development of MI Toolkit, a website that offers educators in MI Excel schools—and others across the state—an extensive and ever-growing array of resources to help them improve teaching and learning.

“The goal of MI Excel is to build the capacity of Priority and Focus school and district leaders to diagnose the causes of low student achievement, and then identify and implement strategies that will address those causes,” says Barbara Markle, assistant dean of K-12 Outreach. “MI Toolkit is an important resource in that process.”

MI Toolkit, a monthly webzine, features articles and videos on various aspects of school improvement and issues related to closing achievement gaps. MI Excel gap specialists contribute regularly in four areas:

  • Special education: Jacquelyn Thompson, Michigan’s former state director of special education
  • English language learners: Madeline Mavrogordato, assistant professor of K-12 Educational Administration at MSU
  • Students of poverty: Gregory White, doctoral student in Educational Policy at MSU
  • Students of color: Theodore Ransaw, outreach academic specialist at MSU


MSU College of Education faculty also contribute regularly; University Distinguished Professor William Schmidt was recently featured in a video interview discussing the Common Core State Standards, and Patricia Edwards, professor of language and literacy, participated in an interview about reducing the achievement gap for African American males.

Matthew Diemer, associate professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology, has also written for MI Toolkit on issues surrounding disadvantaged students. 

“MI Toolkit is taking a careful look at achievement gaps, including those rooted in the often-overlooked area of social class. The website offers an opportunity to explore how social class and race intersect and affect student achievement,” Diemer commented.

Dorinda Carter Andrews, associate professor of teacher education, has also contributed to MI Toolkit on issues of race in education. “The Toolkit provides MI Excel school and district leaders with practical information to help them target specific areas of improvement as it relates to instruction and improving student outcomes,” she said.

Michigan Department of Education (MDE) consultant Jonathan Doll

Michigan Department of Education (MDE) consultant Jonathan Doll is interviewed for MI Toolkit on the MDE Superintendent’s Dropout Challenge.

K-12 Outreach also brings the expertise of national school improvement experts to MI Toolkit, including Bruce Wellman, co-creator of the data dialogue process for exploring student/school data; William Parrett and Kathleen Budge, who have examined the different attributes of high-performing, high-poverty schools; Joseph Murphy, distinguished researcher and author on achievement gaps; Franklin CampbellJones, who created a framework for cultural proficiency; Lyn Sharratt, who has co-authored several books on change with school improvement expert Michael Fullan; and Victoria Bernhardt, who has written extensively on data analysis for continuous school improvement. Each of these experts has provided interesting and engaging interviews tailored to MI Excel schools.


MI Toolkit also maintains a rich archive of school improvement tools. Through the MI Excel program, Michigan State has partnered with Education Resource Strategies (ERS) to offer its System 20/20 to school districts, both through the specialists and facilitators who work directly with school leaders and the MI Toolkit website. The system begins with Resource Check at the district level. The tool helps a district inventory how it is using its current resources—money, time and people—and identify ways to re-align those resources to better support improved achievement for all students. ERS then offers seven core strategies for school turnaround that can help districts improve teaching, maximize learning time, minimize non-instructional spending and provide individualized attention for all students.

Embedded within the ERS tools on MI Toolkit are additional tools developed through the Michigan Department of Education. A variety of other resources and tools are available as well, particularly within the gap areas of special education and English language learners. More are added regularly.

Highlighting success

K12-Outreach-Connecting-BreakoutA very important part of MI Toolkit is to highlight schools and districts that are taking significant steps toward improving teaching and learning. The January 2014 issue featured two Michigan school districts, Bath and Leslie, which made districtwide changes as a result of one or more of their schools being designated as Focus schools. Holbrook Elementary in Hamtramck, Mich., was the focus of an earlier issue, having made significant progress in student achievement after being designated as a Priority school.

“Schools and districts that are facing their Priority or Focus designations head-on and taking significant steps for rapid improvement are models for all MI Excel schools and districts,” says Markle. “We hope that highlighting their efforts and accomplishments on MI Toolkit will inspire educators across Michigan, and convince them it can be done.”

MI Toolkit is supported by K-12 Outreach’s technology and communications teams that provide professional videorecording and editing; web design and development; writing and editing; and social media support. A collaborative process that includes K-12 Outreach’s leadership, MI Excel partners and the professional support staff ensures that the website reflects the mission of improved teaching and learning while keeping the content fresh, engaging and responsive to the needs of educators.