Chester E. Finn Jr.

Senior Fellow
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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

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.

Featured

Is Dumbing-Down Why Graduation Rates Are Up? In Both High School And College?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Start with two unlovable but immutable realities: First, there’s really no constituency for higher standards and greater rigor in education. Valuable though those things are in the long run for both individuals and society, they’re painful in the short run.

Analysis and Commentary

Beating The Drum For Charter Schools

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sarah Tantillo is an accomplished teacher, author, and battle-scarred veteran of the charter-school wars, particularly in New Jersey, where she taught for years at acclaimed North Star Academy and led the state charter school association. Now she has published a first-rate account of and tribute to “how the charter school idea became a national movement.” Titled Hit the Drum, it’s worth the while of everyone who wants a deeper understanding of how charters were born and grew—and prefers to read a brisk, readable, engaging account.

Featured

The Education-Health Care Perplex

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Tuesday, June 4, 2019

As I observe health care rise to the top of the policy debates foreshadowing the 2020 election—seems to be second only to Donald Trump among the twenty-three Democrats now seeking the Oval Office—as K–12 education sinks lower on the policy horizon (such that several observers declare ed-reform a thing of the past), I’m struck by how much these two vast and troubled domains have in common, as do efforts to change them.

Analysis and Commentary

Spelling Bees And Tiger Woods

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A pair of weekend essays heralding two new books point in such different directions regarding childhood, adolescence, and education in today’s America that it feels important to flag the issue—and the tough choices it portends for parents and educators.

Analysis and Commentary

New American Schools: A Short, Opinionated History, Part III

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The NAS teams faced all of these challenges in places like Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Miami, and Memphis. Almost everywhere they went it turned into a slog. This led RAND to conclude (as of 1998) that NAS’s initial aim—to “transform the achievement of large numbers of students with design teams and the assistance they provided to schools”—was “overly ambitious.” Roughly half the schools in the evaluation sample “made gains relative to the district” in which they were located—but the other half did not.

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