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

A Worthy Requiem For Pat Moynihan

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tragically, the mold seems to have been irrevocably shattered, if not discarded on the ash heap of history. Surrounded by the politics and politicians that plague us today, and the wretched campus climate that we’re living with, to view the great new documentary about the late Pat Moynihan is to weep over what’s practically vanished from American public and intellectual life: independent thinkers, policymakers both intrepid and persistent, respect for data, reverence for the truth, determination to stand up for what’s best about America while acknowledging its failings, and a willingness to cross the lines of party and ideology in pursuit of better outcomes for people who need them.

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Analysis and Commentary

Betsy DeVos's (Mostly) Strong National Constitution Day Address

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, September 20, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t get a lot of respect. She’s recently become the object of a mean-spirited board game and an unflattering play based on her (unflattering) confirmation hearing.

Featured

Stuyvesant High School Et. Al: The Inevitability Of Selectivity

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

There’s no perfect solution to the quandary that New York City has long faced in trying to inject greater equity into the most meritocratic of its schools: the nine selective public high schools, eight of which (including Bronx Science and Stuyvesant) rely on scores from a single test of interested eighth graders to determine who gets admitted. Exceed the ever-changing cut score for one of these schools and you’re in; fall a fraction of a point below and you’re out.

Analysis and Commentary

Socialism, Schooling, And Democracy

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party hasn’t won a lot of primaries this summer, but time may be on their side. (Well, Sanders himself will soon turn seventy-eight and may not want to wait…) So one can infer from an alarming survey of young Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four undertaken a few months back by the University of Chicago’s GenForward project. 

Featured

The Unfulfilled Promise Of High-School Choice

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

At first blush, high school would seem to be the part of K–12 education where choice should work best—and do the most good. Students are older, more mobile, more independent, with ideas of their own, often beginning to think about the directions they may take in life as adults.

Featured

The Failure Of Civics Education—And The Brown Center

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings continues to issue annual reports on American education, but this year’s version leads one to rue the retirement of Tom Loveless and the exit of Russ Whitehurst (in his case to another berth at Brookings where he continues to churn out terrific stuff).

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Brushing Up on “Truth Decay”

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Hoover Digest
Monday, July 9, 2018

Separating fact from fiction is an elementary skill. So why don’t we teach it in elementary school?

Analysis and Commentary

Dubious Move To Reject Advanced Placement

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Friday, June 22, 2018

The octet of D.C.- area private school heads who boasted a few days ago that their pricey bastions of teaching and learning will no longer offer Advanced Placement courses made much of how the home-grown classes that will replace AP "allow for authentic engagement with the world and demonstrate respect for students' intellectual curiosity and interests."

Analysis and Commentary

Ending Poverty As We've Known (And Measured) It?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A big surprise—and mountain of confusion—is coming to everyone who cares about educating poor kids, not to mention every policy wonk in the K–12 realm. The definition of “poor” and “disadvantaged” is in flux for the first time in my decades of engagement with K–12 education, and the outcome is going to be a prolonged period of instability and inconsistency. 

Featured

The Gordian Knot Of High School Reform

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I know nobody who denies that high school education in America sorely needs an overhaul. Achievement scores are flat—whether one looks at NAEP, PISA, TIMSS, SAT, or the ACT. Graduation rates are up—but incidents of padding, cheating, and fraud are appearing more and more often. Scads of kids enter college ill prepared to succeed there. 

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