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Supervision in Public Education

The foundations of supervision of curriculum and instruction are rooted in how school committees would monitor or review schools in the 1700s (Nolan & Hoover, 2008). That's right. We evaluate and manage teachers today based on 18th century principles. The purpose of this post is to present these foundations through a review of seminal texts regarding the supervision of curriculum and instruction as well as to compare past supervisory practices to present ones and to explore predominant themes and issues about supervision and evaluation of instruction.

Historical Foundations

According to McGreal (1983), ambivalence exists for both administrators and teachers regarding the role of supervision and evaluation. This ambivalence may be caused by the rapid development of the supervisory role over an extended period. As one educational theory overcame another, the role was augmented. It was not until the Civil War that curricular supervision was a function of trained professionals as it was finally thought that school reform could only be accomplished by such professionals eradicating weak instructors and hiring better ones (Glanz, 1998).

By applying the tenets of efficient labor, Franklin Bobbit and a few other noted educational theorists drove a movement in the early 20th century of rating instructors based on their effectiveness using developed scales (Nolan & Hoover, 2008). However, effective teaching was still something that had not yet been defined. The use of these scales clearly cast the role of curricular supervisor as teacher evaluator. It was not until 1926 that this role began to morph into one of supportive coach (Pajak, 2000). The pivotal text entitled Supervision (Barr, Burton, & Brueckner, 1938) set out a manifesto of sorts to transform educators’ understanding of the supervisory role from one of overseer to one of leader working towards the improvement of instructional practices based on scientific rationale.

The launching of Sputnik and the climate of the Cold War in the late 1950s once again swung the pendulum that characterized a supervisor’s role away from one responsible for guiding the development of curriculum and problem-solver and charged it with the responsibility for creating innovators of industry (Nolan & Hoover, 2008). As the 20th century progressed, curriculum and instructional supervisors played both evaluator and coach despite the fact that the theoretical literature claimed an incompatibility between these two roles and, in the 1960s, supervisors embraced the evaluator role more so as a result of “…inadequate supervisory knowledge and skills, role overload that leads to a lack of time for supervision, and issues related to contractual agreement restricting supervisory activities.” (Nolan & Hoover, 2008, p. 5).

Based on her influential work Teach More-Faster! (1967), Madeline Hunter developed a model referred to as ITIP—Instructional-Theory-Into-Practice. The model interpreted her research as an educational psychologist and, in the mid-1970s, was construed into a step by step approach for teachers developing lessons. This lesson plan model spread quickly to classrooms across the nation and, although she was opposed to it, became a checklist for clinical supervision and dominated the world of education reform for several decades. The model set forth a simple series of instructional phases which began with an anticipatory set designed to grab the attention of the learner. Then, learning objectives are established and the teacher begins the traditional role of presenting the lesson’s principles. Hunter also called for the need to model any task that students were expected to perform. She also called for continual progress monitoring as well as a period during the lesson wherein the teacher provides guided practice opportunities followed by independent practice opportunities. Finally, the ITIP model calls for a specific closing of the lesson through a culminating activity or event.

Comparatively, what is currently seen in a large swath of elementary schools is a version of this process. The Put Reading First initiative ushered in by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 2001) mandated teachers to follow a five-step instructional sequence that in large part an analog of Hunter’s work. The prime difference is how each step is labeled. For example, whereas Hunter referred to an anticipatory set, the modern version of the set is referred to as orientation. The other steps are referred to as presentation, highly-structured practice, guided practice, and independent practice (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 1999).

During the 1990s, Hunter’s clinical supervision approach was counteracted by the developmental supervision approach heralded in the book Developmental Supervision (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 1998) and the in the work of Noreen Garman. Once again, the pendulum swung back, this time to the concepts set out by Cogan and Goldhammer in the 1970s. Garman and others promoting a developmental supervisory role harkened the principles laid out in Cogan’s Clinical Supervision (1973) and Goldhammer’s (1969) book of the same title in which the role of evaluator and the role of collaborator was seen as discordant for supervisors of curriculum and instruction. This dichotomy of approaches to supervision still remains unresolved today (Nolan & Hoover, 2008).


Seminal Works

Although several works have already been cited above, the works of several other influential educational theorists as well as other documents must be included into the record to round out the review of literature focusing on supervision of curriculum and instruction. Some of these include the works of curriculum development theorists such as B. Othaniel Smith and William O. Stanley. A modern understanding of curricular and instructional supervision should be aligned with an understanding of the curriculum development trends of the last century. Works such as Ralph Tyler’s (1949) Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction and Hilda Taba’s (1962) Curriculum Development represent watershed events in the field. Earlier works such as John Franklin Bobbitt’s (1924) How to Make a Curriculum, John Dewey’s (1938) Experience and Education, as well as Benjamin Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives established supervisor’s understanding of what good teaching looks like. Other works such as Howard Gardner’s (1983) controversial work Frames of Mind furthered supervisors’ and teachers’ understanding of the differences in learning styles and skills.

However, arguably, no document in modern times has had as great an effect on the supervision of curriculum and instruction than the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 2001). This landmark legislation ushered in by President George W. Bush has had a sweeping effect on how teachers, schools, districts, and State Educational Agencies are evaluated. The Federal government’s role is not spelled out in the United States Constitution and therefore, by way of the 10th Amendment, individual states are left to their own devices in determining how to administer (and, by extension, evaluate) educational programs. However, with the advent of first the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its most recent incarnation, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Federal Government established it role in guiding the standard for evaluation by providing funding incentives to meet the needs of socioeconomically disadvantaged children. By doing so, they have in effect co-opted how states are to regulate and evaluate student and school achievement.

This revolutionary move created turmoil in many teachers’ professional work as well as brought about much needed focus on the needs of disadvantaged populations such as students with limited-English proficiency and Students with Disabilities. As the federal guidelines for achievement were established to reach 100% proficiency by 2014, schools were under increasing pressure to improve performance.

Consequently, trends such as value-added evaluation and merit-pay programs have reared their heads in modern times. So, what has in effect taken place is supervisors are having to continually mark student progress based on how their State has set up testing guidelines. This, in turn, has caused many conversations to center on student test performance rather than on student learning goals.

Predominant Themes and Practices

As seen above, the theme of evaluator versus collaborator has been grappled with for many decades relative to the supervision of curriculum and instructional practices. On one hand, creating a trusting relationship between administrator and teacher is critical in shaping improvement initiatives. On the other, the need to evaluate competency by checking teacher performance is a democratic need. That is, if tax dollars are to be used to provide students with world-class education, supervisors must be able to assess for competency by inspecting the productivity of instructors formally. This theme poses a fundamental question: are supervision and evaluation complementary functions?

Furthermore, supervision and evaluation themselves can be considered themes. That is, supervision is a function of consulting with instructors with an aim to improve instructional practices and student achievement. As teaching is an inordinately multifarious task, the need to support teachers as they make critical instructional decisions is crucial (Doyle, 2001). Conversely, evaluation is a function of judging aptitude and performance of teachers with one main goal—making personnel decisions (Nolan & Hoover, 2008). It is a “…legitimate right of the state to protect children from harm through incompetent, immoral, or unprofessional teacher behavior.” (Nolan & Hoover, 2008, p. 8).

The two roles also differ in scope. That is, in a clinical supervisory role, a narrow focus may be required. That is, given growth goals, the supervisor may be able to perform his function by focusing on one instructional situation or how one subject matter is taught. However, as an evaluator, administrators must cast a broader focus as their task is to make global judgments regarding the performance of a teacher in all of his duties (i.e. how he performs in all subject areas, how he meets all employee mandates, etc…). As a result, the nature of the relationship between teacher and supervisor is significantly informed by the role the supervisor is playing at differing times.

Another theme in the role of supervision of curriculum and instruction is related to data collection. In order to ascertain how a supervisor may guide the growth of a teacher, tailored data sets must be collected based on the individual performance of teachers (Nolan & Francis, 1992). Conversely, if the supervisor is acting as evaluator, “…the evaluation data must take a more global focus, encompassing the teaching-learning environment in its entirety rather than just one or several selected aspects of the teacher’s behavior.” (Nolan & Hoover, 2008, p. 11). What is clear is that although the two roles are compatible, they cannot be donned simultaneously. In present practice, administrators often will express their role to the teacher they are having an exchange with. That is, they will be clear with the teacher as to whether or not they are observing a lesson for the purpose of evaluation or for coaching purposes. However, in effect, because the roles are played by the same person, teachers are often reluctant to engage supervisors in trusting relationships.

Currently, one of the most problematic trends in curriculum and instruction is related to value-added evaluation. Made infamous now by articles posted in the fall of 2010 in the Los Angeles Times and spring of 2009 in Newsweek, value added evaluation “…use test scores to track the growth of individual students as they progress through the grades and see how much ‘value’ a teacher has added.” (Strauss, 2010, para. 4). Admittedly, on the outset, there appears to be nothing wrong with tracking an individual child’s progress. However, according to the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Testing and Achievement, much more research is necessary into alternative evaluation models such as the value-added approach (Strauss, 2010).

Future Trends

Undoubtedly, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative now adopted by a majority of states will guide the future of supervision of curriculum and instruction. The initiative brought about by a the work of Achieve, Inc. as an extension of their American Diploma Project sets out to calibrate educational standards in the United States. Historically, the standards-based movement may be traced to the work of the National Education Association’s Committee of Ten in the late 19th century. In the more modern context, a majority of the union’s states adopted a set of standards or at least curricular frameworks beginning in the late 1990s. The CCSS is now the most current extension of the standards-based movement and it will unquestionably rule how we view instruction, curriculum, and the teaching profession as a whole. Just how they will shape the future of supervision is yet to be determined.


Barr, A., Burton, W., & Brueckner, L. (1938). Supervision: Democratic leadership for the improvement of learning (2nd ed.). New York: Appleton-Hartley.

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, handbook 1: Cognitive domain (2nd ed.). Boston: Addison Wesley.

Bobbitt, J. F. (1924). How to make a curriculum. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Cogan, M. (1973). Clinical supervision. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Doyle, W. (2001). Classroom organization and management. In M. Wittrock (Ed.),

Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 392-431). New York: Macmillan.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Glanz, J. (1998). Histories, antecedents, and legacies of school supervision. In G. Firth & E. Pajak (Eds.), Handbook of research on school supervision (pp. 39-79). New York: Macmillan.

Glickman, C., Gordon, S., & Ross-Gordon, J. (1998). Developmental supervision (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Goldhammer, R. (1969). Clinical supervision: Special techniques for the supervision of teachers. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Hunter, M. C. (1967). Teach more--faster!. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Joyce, B. R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (1999). Models of teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

McGreal, T. (1983). Successful teacher evaluation. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. § 6301 (Congressional Record 2001).

Nolan, J. H., & Hoover, L. A. (2008). Teacher supervision & evaluation: Theory into practice (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Nolan, J., & Francis, P. (1992). Changing perspectives in curriculum and instruction. In C. Glickman (Ed.), Supervision in transition (pp. 44-60). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Pajak, E. (2000). Approaches to clinical supervision: Alternative for improving instruction (2nd ed.). Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.

Strauss, V. (2010, February 25). The hype of ’value-added’ in teacher evaluation. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Taba, H. (1962). Curriculum development: Theory and practice. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Publishers Ltd..

Tyler, R. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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