Chester E. Finn Jr.

Senior Fellow
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Biography: 

Chester E. Finn Jr. has devoted his career to improving education in the United States. As a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, chairman of Hoover's Task Force on K–12 Education, and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, his primary focus is reforming primary and secondary schooling.

Finn has led Fordham since 1997, after many earlier roles in education, academe, and government, including professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, US assistant secretary of education, and legislative director for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

A native of Ohio, he holds an undergraduate degree in US history, a master's degree in social studies teaching, and a doctorate in education policy, all from Harvard University.

Finn has served on numerous boards, currently including the National Council on Teacher Quality and the Core Knowledge Foundation. From 1988 to 1996, he served on the National Assessment Governing Board, including two years as its chair.

Author of more than four hundred articles and twenty books, Finn's latest (coauthored with Jessica Hockett) is Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools. Earlier works include Ohio's Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the Frontlines (coauthored with Terry Ryan and Michael Lafferty); Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform since Sputnik; Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut; Leaving No Child Behind: Options for Kids in Failing Schools (coedited with Frederick M. Hess); Charter Schools in Action: Renewing Public Education (coauthored with Bruno V. Manno and Gregg Vanourek); and The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide from Pre-School through Eighth Grade (coauthored with William J. Bennett and John Cribb).

He and his wife, Renu Virmani, a physician, have two grown children and three adorable granddaughters. They live in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

His research papers are available at the Hoover Institution Archives.

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Recent Commentary

Analysis and Commentary

Why It's Hard To Grasp Charter School Effectiveness

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Brandon L. Wright via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Monday, May 23, 2016

Supporting charter schools requires tough love. It isn’t enough to create them and let kids attend them. They also need to be run with integrity; their books need to balance; their pupils must be safe; and above all, their academic achievement has to be strong, especially when gauged by student growth.

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Paying Homage To Charter Schools' Early Trailblazers

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Brandon L. Wright via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Next month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of America’s first charter school law, which Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson signed on June 4, 1991. This statute birthed a sector that has become not just a source of new schools for kids who need them, but also a structural reform of public education’s governance and delivery systems. 

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America's Report Card: We're Still Ignoring Low-Income High-Achievers

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Brandon L. Wright via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Friday, April 29, 2016

Last week, the Department of Education released the 2015 Nation’s Report Card for twelfth graders. As with the fourth- and eighth-grade scores provided last fall, there was little to celebrate. In the core subjects of math and reading, average scores held firm at the same unimpressive level they’ve been at since 2009.

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Illinois Failing Its Gifted Students

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Brandon L. Wright via The State Journal-Register
Sunday, April 10, 2016

In the midst of Illinois's historic budget stalemate, funding for education and much else remains in dispute. Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislature haven't been able to agree on major priorities, even as Chicago schools go broke and the Chicago Teachers Union looks more likely to strike every day.

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If Republican Legislatures Drown In Trump’s Wake, What Will Happen To Education Reform?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, April 7, 2016

Policy wonks and political prognosticators have begun to forecast the collateral damage that is apt to follow if Donald Trump manages—in spite of himself, and notwithstanding his Wisconsin setback—to win the Republican nomination, damaging not only GOP prospects for retrieving the White House but also the party’s odds of prevailing in innumerable races for Congress and for state (and even local) leadership.

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Analysis and Commentary

Fictionalizing Education Reform

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reformers always face backlash, no matter the realm. People and institutions, structures and routines, budgets and staffing arrangements—all are tailored for the status quo. Indeed, they define the status quo, and myriad interests are then enmeshed in keeping things the way they’ve always been. 

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School Policies Have Gotten Smarter In The Decade After ‘No Child Left Behind’

by Michael J. Petrilli, Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Washington Post
Friday, February 12, 2016

A decade ago, U.S. education policies were a mess. It was the classic problem of good intentions gone awry. At the core of the good idea was the common-sense insight that if we want better and more equitable results from our education system, we should set clear expectations for student learning, measure whether our kids are meeting them and hold schools accountable for their outcomes, mainly gauged in terms of academic achievement.

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Fight for the Bright

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Brandon L. Wright via Hoover Digest
Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Our highest-achieving students have needs, too—and we’re failing to meet them.

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Governing Urban Schools In The Future: What’s Facing Philadelphia And Pennsylvania

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Urban school governance is a moving target, in part because it’s pretty clear that there’s no best way to handle it and in part because no change in a city’s arrangements ever works as well as its promoters hoped. 

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The Bush Education Plan

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Education reform has been a specialty of Jeb Bush’s, and his track record on this issue in Florida is unbeatable. He knows the topic up, down, and sideways. But he’s never had to deal directly with federal policy before, so I picked up his “education vision” paper with interest to see how he and his team would approach it.

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