Chester E. Finn Jr.

Senior Fellow
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 Bruno V. Manno and Brandon L. Wright) is Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities. Earlier works include Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students (coauthored with Brandon L. Wright), Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools (coauthored with Jessica Hockett), 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

Is It Finally, At Long Last, Time For Religious Charter Schools?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Seventeen long years ago, I urged the creation of “religious charter schools,” either encouraging their start from scratch or—more realistically—allowing extant Catholic and other faith-based schools to convert to charter status without having to forego the religious elements that distinguish them and that many parents crave for their children.

In the News

A Book That’s A Must-Read For Education Reformers

featuring Chester E. Finn Jr., Michael J. Petrillivia National Review
Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Our education system is a rousing success — if you want it to produce young people who abhor our traditions. On the other hand, if you think it should educate them about our history and institutions, warts and all, so they can lead lives as productive citizens, it is failing miserably.

Featured

Why Grades Matter

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A tenth-grader I happen to know pretty well takes her school grades seriously and derives satisfaction and pride from good ones (which, I might add, she routinely seems to get). This spring was hard for her—no fun for a teenager to be home with mom and dad all day, no contact with friends except on screens, and none of the face-to-face classroom interaction with teachers and fellow students that she adores. 

Featured

The War On Testing

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Hill
Sunday, June 28, 2020

America’s war on testing entered a new phase this spring as every state extracted a federal waiver from end-of-year assessments of its school kids in reading and math, and most also skipped their own end-of-course and high-school exit exams.

Featured

Empty Pedestals And Diminished History

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Theodore Roosevelt’s statue is being removed from the front entry of the American Museum of Natural History that he did so much to help create.

Interviews

Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli: The Education Gadfly Show: Effecting Real Change In America

interview with Chester E. Finn Jr., Michael J. Petrillivia Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Hoover Institution fellows Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli along with David Griffith discuss what it takes for real change to happen in America.

Analysis and Commentary

How Fundamental Change Happens In America

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Much newsprint, airtime, and social media discourse in recent days have been consumed by the question of whether the awful George Floyd murder and its voluminous aftermath on the world’s streets will yield fundamental transformations of policing, of the justice system, of race relations, bias, inequality, and opportunity denied.

Analysis and Commentary

Scrapping Admissions Tests Won’t Cure What Ails Education

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

On May 21, driven by exquisitely progressive intentions, the regents of the University of California made the worst policy decision in the recent history of American higher education: to eliminate SAT and ACT admissions testing for in-state applicants to all nine of their undergraduate campuses, which comprise one of the country’s biggest and historically most prestigious state systems.

Featured

Eliminating The ACT And SAT Won’t Fix What’s Wrong With Education

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Dispatch
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The University of California is hurting the students it’s trying to help by eliminating objective measures for admissions.

Analysis and Commentary

Geography: The Unloved Stepchild Of American Education

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Many urgent challenges await the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and its governing board (NAGB) in the coming months, including whether the scheduled biennial testing of reading and math in grades four and eight is feasible during the 2020–21 school year. Present law requires that this happen, but what if schools aren’t open or if health precautions mean the assessors must don PPE to enter classrooms where spotty attendance also distorts the student sample?

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