Hoover Institution News Release: School Reform over 40 years: Checker Finn reveals in Troublemaker what’s worked (or not) -- and why

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
this is an image
this is an image

For four decades, Chester E. Finn, Jr. has held an “insider’s seat” on America’s school-reform movement. Federal and state, executive and legislative, government and think-tank, Republican and Democrat—Finn has known and worked with key mover-shakers in education and has played a unique dual role as observer/critic/analyst as well as participant/catalyst/activist. His wealth of experience and knowledge becomes available to the public with the publication of Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform since Sputnik (Cloth $26.95, ISBN: 978-0-691-12990-7, Princeton University Press, pub date: March 19, 2008).

Part history and part memoir, Troublemaker examines how and why America’s tranquil mid-century schools were jostled by wave after wave of reforms and what the results have been from these intense, costly and disruptive efforts to improve U.S. education. Against this backdrop, the author recounts his own multi-faceted engagement in these events during a career that’s ranged from teaching high school to advising presidents.

Better education is urgent, Finn argues, to prepare young Americans to participate in a fast-moving economy, keep pace with technology, meet the needs of a changing population, and respond to greater societal demands. Yet reforming schools is frustrating, pondering and fractious, as public education remains change-averse and beset by adult interests, screwy dogmas and political cross currents.

Finn follows three distinct reform strands from the 1950s to today:

  • standards-based, culminating in today’s controversial No Child Left Behind act
  • choice-based, strategies such as vouchers and charter schools
  • professional, reforms that empower and confer status on educators.

Finn recounts what has worked (and what hasn’t) in school reform over the last half century and demonstrates that what we need now is a combination of choice and standards-driven reforms that provides parents with more options while holding all schools to higher performance norms.

Chester “Checker” Finn is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and senior editor of Education Next. He has authored fourteen books including What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, co-authored with Diane Ravitch; and Charter Schools in Action, co-authored with Bruno V. Manno, and Gregg Vanourek.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12990-7 $26.95 cloth
Princeton University Press, March 19, 2008