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, former chairman of Hoover's Task Force on K–12 Education, member of the Maryland State Board of Education and of Maryland's Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, and Distinguished Senior Fellow & President Emeritus 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

The Federal Charter Schools Program: A Short, Opinionated History

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Thursday, August 15, 2019

Avoiding the ‘rigidities and often dysfunction of local school districts’ yielded a success.

Analysis and Commentary

The Federal Charter Schools Program: A Short, Opinionated History, Part III

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Looking at this array of subprograms and grantees, one might suppose that Uncle Sam is driving the charter bus. But look at it another way. Federal funding for CSP reached a peak of $440 million in FY 2019—and the Trump administration budgeted $500 million for FY 2020 (though at this writing House appropriators have approved just $400 milllion). 

In the News

Why We Factor Suspension Rates Into How We Identify Top Schools For Underserved Students

quoting Chester E. Finn Jr.via EdSource
Tuesday, August 6, 2019

If a school has strong academic results, but high suspension rates, is that a problem? We think so. That, however, is not a view that is universally shared. 

Analysis and Commentary

The Federal Charter Schools Program: A Short, Opinionated History, Part II

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Clinton entered the Oval Office in January 1993 primed to develop his own version of a federal program to advance the national education goals and eager to include public-school versions of choice in that plan. Congress was still in Democratic hands. (That would change two years later.) The key Senate Democrat was already charter-receptive. So, drawing on long experience as governor of South Carolina, was education secretary Richard Riley. And so was the Democratic Leadership Council, which helped craft Clinton’s education plan.

Analysis and Commentary

Widening Excellence Gap

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The ever-vigilant Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has issued a short (two-page!), trenchant issue brief—closer, really, to an infogram—showing how the “excellence gap” in American schools has actually worsened over the past two decades.

Featured

Gifted Education Faces “Clear And Present” Problems

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Institute for Educational Advancement recently completed an elaborate survey of public views toward many aspects of the education of gifted children and the results are enlightening, sobering—and complicated. Authored by Institute president Betsy Jones and Institute fellow Shelagh Gallagher, the report is aimed partly at advocates within the field of gifted-and-talented education, as a substantial portion of it is devoted to “market testing” various terms and phrases to determine which resonate best with which audiences and constituencies as well as the type of “messaging” that seems most effective in building public support for programs of this sort. (The rather surprising winner: “Money for prisons, not for gifted.”)

Analysis and Commentary

The Federal Charter Schools Program: A Short, Opinionated History, Part I

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, July 17, 2019

With four billion dollars of funding over twenty-five years, the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) has turned out to be one of the larger and (in my view) more successful examples of government-supported R & D in the K–12 realm, with heavy emphasis on the “D,” but in ways that have also fostered considerable innovation. It has, in the words of veteran education analyst Christy Wolfe (now at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools), “played a critical role in increasing the number of charter schools across the country.”

Featured

One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Our Schools?

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Michael J. Petrillivia The Education Gadfly Show Podcast
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Hoover Institution fellows Checker Finn and Michael Petrilli discuss how the moon landing relates to American education.
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Is Reform Even Possible?

by Chester E. Finn Jr., David Steinervia Hoover Digest
Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It’s easy to get discouraged about the many stubborn obstacles to better schools. Thoughts on giving the system the jolt it needs.

Analysis and Commentary

Public Attitudes Toward Gifted Education: Supportive, Complacent, Incomplete

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Institute for Educational Advancement recently completed an elaborate survey of public views toward many aspects of the education of gifted children and the results are enlightening, sobering—and complicated.

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