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 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

In the News

Charter School Companies Feast At The Public Trough

quoting Chester E. Finn Jr.via South Florida Sun Sentinel
Friday, March 15, 2019

In the Summer 2015 edition of the conservative magazine National Affairs, two of America’s leading charter school proponents made a striking confession. “We wanted the infusions of capital and entrepreneurialism that accompany the profit motive, but we didn’t take seriously enough the risk of profiteering,” wrote Chester Finn Jr., and Bruno Manno, both former assistant U.S. secretaries of education. They also warned against letting the charter sector “ossify into a conventional interest group.”

Analysis and Commentary

Is Education Reform Possible In America?

by Chester E. Finn Jr., David Steinervia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Since publication of A Nation at Risk (1983), the United States has engaged in nonstop efforts to raise K–12 academic outcomes and close the tragic achievement gaps between different sectors of its young population.


The Report Card With Nat Malkus: Education Freedom Scholarships With Chester Finn Jr.

interview with Chester E. Finn Jr.via AEI
Friday, March 1, 2019

Hoover Institution fellow Chester Finn discusses the Trump Administration's plan to give families more choice through “Education Freedom Scholarships,"  its political prospects, and past efforts to increase educational choice in America.

Analysis and Commentary

Let’s Hear It For Educational Freedom!

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Friday, March 1, 2019

Twenty-five months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, his administration has just unveiled its big school-choice initiative—yes, the cause that, during his 2016 campaign, he termed the “new civil rights issue of our time,” the very same cause that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has devoted her career to promoting.

Analysis and Commentary

Smarter Teachers = Higher Student Achievement

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Everybody knows that teacher quality matters hugely in education, indeed may be the single most potent variable in a classroom, school or system. Yet it’s also an exceptionally elusive and inherently contentious quality. Is a “quality” teacher simply the same thing as an “effective” teacher, with the latter typically gauged by looking at measurable student outcomes of one sort of another, preferably via a sophisticated “value added” calculation? 


Chester E. Finn, Jr. And Michael Petrilli: Out Of Commission

interview with Chester E. Finn Jr., Michael J. Petrillivia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Hoover Institution fellows Checker Finn and Michael Petrilli discuss Finn's experience on Maryland’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, and its bold proposals for improving the state’s schools.

Analysis and Commentary

Kirwan And The Sacred Cows

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The long-awaited report of Maryland’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education—aka Kirwan Commission—was released last week. I had the honor (and sometimes pleasure) to serve on this body for the past two years as it strove with fair success to develop and recommend a coherent package of bold changes intended to transform K–12 schools in the Old Line State.


Education Freedom (Not) In The Free State

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper
Wednesday, January 30, 2019

I’ve lived in Maryland for more than four decades now and in recent years have been honored to serve on the state board of education and the statewide Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (a.k.a. Kirwan Commission). Certainly there are bright spots in this state’s K–12 system—some great schools, many fine teachers, forward-looking leaders, and more. 

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Teach Your Children Well

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Hoover Digest
Friday, January 25, 2019

Schools teach young Americans about their heritage of freedom. Those lessons must include the failures of socialism.

Analysis and Commentary

Reflecting On Education Week'S 10 Big Ideas Of 2019

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Education Week opened the year with a second annual special issue titled “10 Big Ideas” with, wrote editor Elizabeth Rich, “the potential to define—or redefine—education in the year ahead.” Each includes a staff-written essay accompanied by a commentary penned by an outside researcher, practitioner, or advocate.