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


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.


The Evolution Of CTE With Scott Stump And Chester Finn

interview with Chester E. Finn Jr.via AEI
Thursday, May 16, 2019

Hoover Institution fellow Chester Finn discusses how CTE (Career and technical education) has evolved over time, which students are taking classes, and what policy solutions can ensure that CTE is available to all.

Analysis and Commentary

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

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas Fordham Institute
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
This essay is part of the The Moonshot for Kids project, a joint initiative of the Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress. This is the second of three parts. The first ran last week, and the third will appear in the next issue of the Education Gadfly Weekly.
Analysis and Commentary

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

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Educators and ed reformers have long been tantalized by the dream of “reinventing” the school. “If only we could break away from this industrial-style arrangement,” goes the usual refrain, “with its boxy classrooms, batch-processed students, and rigid bell schedule, and create totally different schools that are better suited to modern times and to children’s needs.”

Analysis and Commentary

Discipline Doves Hassle Charters, Too

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Thursday, May 2, 2019

I’m a confirmed school-discipline hawk. I believe that the first obligation of schools is to keep kids safe and their second obligation is to create and preserve a calm environment in which those who want to learn are able to do so with minimal interruption. While I may understand and even empathize with the travails and demons that cause other kids to disrupt that environment, it is nonetheless the school’s responsibility—if it cannot speedily and durably solve the problem within its classrooms—to put the disrupters somewhere else. Period.

Analysis and Commentary

Federal Education Research And Development: A Brief, Opinionated History

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Half a century has passed since I first fell through the looking glass into the peculiar world of federal education research and development.

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.