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

Analysis and Commentary

Federal Education R & D: A Brief, Opinionated History (Part II)

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

To be sure, Uncle Sam also puts some money into education research through other agencies, especially the National Science Foundation; other parts of the Department of Education support studies and innovations related to their own missions; and a dozen private foundations view education research as an important component—in a few cases the lead item—in their own spending.

Policy InsightsFeatured


featuring Eric Hanushek, Margaret (Macke) Raymond, Russell Roberts, Paul E. Peterson, Chester E. Finn Jr., Tom Churchvia PolicyEd
Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Education policy is complicated in the United States because of our federalist system. The federal government’s role in education is more advisory than operational. It provides a lot of guidance on the standards and goals for students, but allows states and local governments the flexibility to achieve them with varying methods. The federal government is in a position to know what we need in order to be competitive internationally. It can also be valuable in compensating students who need extra help. 

Analysis and Commentary

Aspen’s Newest Social-Emotional Learning Offering Gives Cause for Pause

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Frederick M. Hessvia EducationNext
Thursday, April 18, 2019

Having recently unburdened ourselves of seven large gobbets of advice for the champions of today’s surging interest in Social & Emotional Learning (SEL), we intend occasionally to point to developments that strike us as problematic or promising. Our goal isn’t to point fingers—though that can be kind of fun.


Federal Education R & D: A Brief, Opinionated History (Part I)

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Half a century has passed since I first fell through the looking glass into the peculiar world of federal education research and development. As an extremely junior domestic-policy aide in the Nixon White House, I helped Pat Moynihan, Jim Allen, George Shultz, and others craft what, in March 1970, became a presidential message to Congress proposing creation of a “National Institute of Education” (NIE). Two years later, it came into existence and it’s been reinvented and reconstructed twice since then—plus innumerable fine-tunings—into what is now the Education Department’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES). 

In the News

How Should Schools Approach Teaching, Measuring Whole-Child Competencies?

quoting Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Dive
Tuesday, April 16, 2019

With recent research highlighting the benefits of social and emotional development in preparing students for the workforce, experts at the 2019 Reagan Institute Summit on Education (RISE) discussed the implementation and measurement of whole-child educational competencies in schools.

Analysis and Commentary

Finding The Right Role For Social And Emotional Learning

by Paul E. Peterson with Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Education Exchange
Monday, April 15, 2019

What is social and emotional learning, how does it relate to academic learning, and how much should schools focus on it? Chester E. Finn, Jr., a distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, joins Paul E. Peterson to discuss “What Social and Emotional Learning Needs to Succeed and Survive,” a new paper co-written with Rick Hess.

Analysis and Commentary

Some Things Old, Some Things New

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Monday, April 15, 2019

“Build new, don’t reform old,” says Jason Bedrick as he attempts to use my experience on the Maryland State Board of Education to prove that “the system is beyond reform,” and to imply that school choice is the only strategy worth pursuing. He’s maybe 30 percent correct, which isn’t a winning tally.

Analysis and Commentary

The Testing Devil We Know Or...?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Thursday, April 11, 2019

Tom Vander Ark is a very smart guy who cares deeply about education, has wide-ranging experience in it (including service as a district superintendent), and knows far more about technology than I do. I like and respect and often agree with him. And perhaps the grand, arguably utopian, scheme he is proposing by which to “end a century of standardized testing” can one day come to pass.


Michael Petrilli & Chester Finn Jr.: Is Checker Going Soft On “Social And Emotional Learning”?

interview with Michael J. Petrilli, Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Gadfly
Thursday, April 11, 2019

Hoover Institution fellows Michael Petrilli and Chester Finn discuss with David Griffith, his new paper with Rick Hess, how the social and emotional learning movement can avoid going off the rails.


The Corruption Continuum

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Fordham Institute
Thursday, April 11, 2019

I’m as appalled and disgusted as anyone over the Varsity Blues admissions scandal, and it’s fine with me if those parents end up in prison. But I also worry about hypocrisy. So many of us now throwing up our hands in outrage have tiptoed in our own ways onto a continuum at the far end of which is the bribery and conspiracy that’s recently been revealed.