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


AP: Great For Gifted High Schoolers

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Andrew Scanlanvia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

When considering the available options for gifted high-school kids, the Advanced Placement (AP) program may not be the first thing that comes to mind. That’s too bad because AP might be America’s most effective large-scale “gifted and talented” program at the high school level. That’s a conclusion we reached while researching and writing Learning in the Fast Lane: The Past, Present, and Future of Advanced Placement, published last month by Princeton University Press.

Analysis and Commentary

Advanced Coursework Gets A Needed Boost

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Last week in Austin, at the annual “summit” sponsored by the PIE (“Policy Innovators in Education”) Network, prizes were conferred on a handful of state-based education-reform groups that had accomplished remarkable feats in the previous year, this despite the reform-averse mood that chills much of the nation.


Michael Petrilli: The Education Gadfly Show: All About AP

with Michael J. Petrilli, Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Hoover Institution fellow Michael Petrilli talks with Hoover Institution fellow Checker Finn and Andrew Scanlan about their new book on the past, present, and future of Advanced Placement.


Chester Finn Jr.: The Fast Track To College

interview with Chester E. Finn Jr.via Mind Matters Podcast
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Hoover Institution fellow Chester Finn talks about the history of AP, where it’s going, and where kids may encounter difficulties.


Why Has AP Succeeded When So Many Other Reforms Have Failed?

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Andrew Scanlanvia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

American K–12 education is awash in reforms, nostrums, interventions, silver bullets, pilot programs, snake oil peddlers, advocates, and crusaders, not to mention innumerable private foundations that occasionally emerge from their endless cycles of strategic planning to unload their latest brainstorms upon the land. Yet when subjected to close scrutiny, not much actually “works”—and at the high school level practically nothing seems to. Sometimes the flaw was in the conception itself, sometimes in the implementation, oftentimes in the peerless ability of a vast, entrenched, bureaucratic system to repel, besiege, and ultimately tame or expel disruptive innovations of all sorts.

In the News

What We Are Reading Today: Learning In The Fast Lane

featuring Chester E. Finn Jr.via Arab News
Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Advanced Placement program stands as the foremost source of college-level academics for millions of high school students in the US and beyond. More than 22,000 schools now participate in it, across nearly forty subjects, from Latin and art to calculus and computer science. Yet remarkably little has been known about how this nongovernmental program became one of the greatest success stories in K–12 education — until now.

Analysis and Commentary

End-Of-Course Exams Benefit Students—And States

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Amber M. Northernvia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Education reformers in the United States have stumbled when it comes to high schools and the achievement evidence shows it. National Assessment results in grade twelve have been flat for a very long time. ACT and SAT scores are flat. U.S. results on PISA and TIMSS are essentially flat. College remediation rates—and dropout rates—remain high. Advanced Placement (AP) participation is up, but success on AP exams is not—and for minority students it’s down. 

Analysis and Commentary

The Proficiency Bar Is Inching Upward, Yes, But…

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A dozen long years ago, when people were just beginning to take serious stock of what good and not-so-good was emerging from 2002’s enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we at Fordham, in league with the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), issued a 200-plus page analysis of the “proficiency” standards that states had by then been required to set and test for. 

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).