Chester E. Finn Jr.

Senior Fellow
Research Team: 
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

Featured

When College Students Don’t Understand The Concept Of Free Speech

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Next
Friday, September 22, 2017

We’ve known for a while—thanks to the National Assessment and other measures—that American primary-secondary students aren’t learning a heckuva lot of civics, never mind that social studies is taught everywhere and taking high school civics is a widespread graduation requirement.

Analysis and Commentary

Bricks Without Straw: Maryland’s ESSA Accountability Plan

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Monday, September 18, 2017

Last week, Maryland governor Larry Hogan notified the State Board of Education (on which I serve*) and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that he will not sign the state’s ESSA accountability plan, which is due in Washington on Monday. The previous day, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker notified his...

Analysis and Commentary

Should Teachers Be Allowed To Promote Commercial Products?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Thursday, September 7, 2017

The New York Times ran an interminable front-page piece on Sunday raising doubts about the ethics and propriety of teachers who promote commercial products, especially those from big tech firms like Apple and Google, for use by other teachers and their schools. The example that reporter Natasha Singer focused on—”one of the tech-savviest teachers in the United States”—is an ace third grade teacher named Kayla Delzer, whose classroom is in the hamlet of Mapleton, North Dakota. 

Analysis and Commentary

Trump's Cruel Move On DACA

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

When I endorsed the “Dream Act” fourteen long years ago, I introduced “Alex,” the then-very-young lad whom my wife and I were helping to cope with some of the challenges of life in America for an entirely innocent victim of this country’s wretchedly screwed up and inhumane immigration laws.

school children
Featured

Diversifying Our Selective Colleges Begins In Kindergarten

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Brandon L. Wright via Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A recent New York Times analysis suggests that a generation of policies meant to bring racial proportionality to our selective colleges has failed. “Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago,” declared the authors.

Analysis and Commentary

Personalizing Via Technology?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Last month, The Economist ran a terrific combination feature and editorial on educational technology and how, properly deployed, it can transform the old Prussian model of schooling that most of the world has followed since the eighteenth century.

Analysis and Commentary

Betsy DeVos Promotes Parents As First Line Of Defense On School Accountability

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Accountability for schools of choice is a topic forever in the news—and in dispute. The latest combatant is none other than Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who made clear in a recent interview with the Associated Press that she favors letting the market work its will and trusting parents to judge whether a school is worth attending. In this context, she was referring specifically to private schools insofar as they participate in publicly financed voucher or tax-credit-scholarship programs. 

Analysis and Commentary

Betsy DeVos Is Wrong About Accountability For Schools Of Choice

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Accountability for schools of choice is a topic forever in the news—and in dispute. The latest combatant is none other than Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who made clear in a recent interview with the Associated Press that she favors letting the market work its will and trusting parents to judge whether a school is worth attending. In this context, she was referring specifically to private schools insofar as they participate in publicly financed voucher or tax-credit-scholarship programs.

Featured

Can Personalized Learning Prevail?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I am 200 percent in favor of personalized learning, defined as enabling every child to move through the prescribed curriculum at his or her own speed, progressing on the basis of individual mastery of important skills and knowledge rather than in lockstep according to age, grade level, and end-of-year assessments. 

Featured

The Social-Emotional-Learning Movement And The Self-Esteem Movement

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The longtime Democratic lawmaker John Vasconcellos is resting in peace since his death in 2014, but the educational disaster he laid on California in the 1980s is far from gone. Indeed, its likeness thrives today across a broad swath of America’s K-12 schooling, supported by foundation grants, federal funding, and both nonprofit and for-profit advocacy groups. Only its name has changed—from self-esteem to social-emotional learning.

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