Chester E. Finn Jr.

Senior Fellow
Research Team: 

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


Preschool Support, Sure — Biden's Plan, No

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Hill
Friday, May 7, 2021
The overriding problem with President Biden’s education scheme, as presented in his grandiose “American Families” package, is its focus on more schooling rather than more learning.

Checker Finn, Michael Petrilli, and David Griffith: Debating Biden’s Universal Pre-K Plan

interview with Chester E. Finn Jr., Michael J. Petrilli, David Griffithvia Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Thursday, May 6, 2021
Hoover Institution fellows Checker Finn and Michael Petrilli as well as David Griffith discuss President Biden’s proposal for universal preschool.

Testing: Education’s Indispensable GPS

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Hoover Education Success Initiative | The Papers
Tuesday, May 4, 2021

We need a national conversation about the “why” of testing students annually, because we as educators need to come to a collective understanding of their importance. This could be led by our country’s new secretary of education, and we’re seeing many governors and state commissioners lead these conversations in many states.

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Results-Based Accountability for Schools: Education’s Heaviest Lift

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Hoover Education Success Initiative | The Papers
Monday, May 3, 2021

As required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states should resume school-level accountability as soon as the pandemic is substantially under control, most students are regularly attending school or can be assessed remotely, and reliable data are available, including achievement and growth data. The target should be the end of school year 2021–22.

Analysis and Commentary

Remembering Bob Slavin

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Bob Slavin was a force of nature, a world-famous education researcher who was also far more than that. A policy advocate (see for example his recent proposal for a post-Covid “Marshall plan” for schools, which strikes me as akin to what Biden is now proposing) and a major “doer” in his own right. Best known of course for the “Success for All” reading program, now more than three decades old. 

Analysis and Commentary

Testing, SpaceX, And The Quest For Consensus

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, April 22, 2021

In a thought-provoking piece in the Hechinger Report a couple weeks ago, IES director Mark Schneider and Schmidt Futures honcho Kumar Garg made a compelling case for a revolution in education testing. The authors correctly explained that practically nobody likes today’s assessments, they’re expensive, and many people would like to do away with them altogether. 


Why Testing And Accountability Matter In K–12 Education

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via PolicyEd
Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Improvements to transparency and accountability can help schools recover from the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Sorry History Of “What Works” In School

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, April 1, 2021

My friend and colleague Mike Petrilli is understandably proud of Fordham’s spanking new Acceleration Imperative: A Plan to Address Elementary Students’ Unfinished Learning in the Wake of Covid-19. He’s worked super-hard to midwife it, engaging great outside help, drawing support from the Fordham board, and committing endless hours of his own, even as a few of his colleagues voiced reservations. 


Cautious Hope For A New History-And-Civics Roadmap

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, March 4, 2021

Bullish but far from sanguine is how I view the ambitious history-and-civics “roadmap” unveiled this week by the “Educating for American Democracy” (EAD) project.


Jay Mathews’s Admirable Optimism About American Education

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, March 4, 2021

Yes, I blurbed it—and I like it. Yes, a visitor to our home, a worldly and skeptical sort, hefted it and looked at the title and asked me “Isn’t that awfully thick for a book about optimism regarding American public education?”