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

Analysis and Commentary

Five Lessons From My Time On The Maryland State Board Of Education, Part II

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Third, do your utmost to control the agenda and contain the interruptions. Every organization with a board is capable of drowning that board in so much paperwork, so many information items, and such a long list of trivial issues for review as to prevent board members from even getting enough airtime to present their ideas and raise other matters. What’s more, any veteran executive (and every state superintendent comes from that tribe!) knows that control comes from managing the agenda, paper flow, and lines of communication. 

Analysis and Commentary

Re-Weaving The Fabric Of Character

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Tuesday, April 2, 2019

As I gird my loins for several upcoming events where we will wrangle over the “social and emotional learning” approach to educating-the-whole-child, I benefited—and perhaps you could, too—from a conceptual reset, courtesy of a fine new book by Anne Snyder, who leads the “character initiative” at the Philanthropy Roundtable, of which Fordham is a member and where I once had the honor of serving on the board.

Analysis and Commentary

Five Lessons From My Time On The Maryland State Board Of Education

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

A surprising array of events are arranged in four-year cycles: leap years, the Olympics, presidential elections, and many “terms of office,” including those on the Maryland State Board of Education, where I just concluded my tour of duty.

Analysis and Commentary

Reflections On A Four-Year Sentence

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A surprising array of events are arranged in four-year cycles: leap years, the Olympics, presidential elections, and many “terms of office,” including those on the Maryland State Board of Education, where I just concluded my tour of duty.

Featured

Responding To The Achievement Gap Findings

by Chester E. Finn Jr. quoting Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Petersonvia Education Next
Thursday, March 21, 2019

An ambitious, important new piece of analysis by scholars Eric Hanushek (an economist) and Paul Peterson (a political scientist), plus Laura Talpey and Ludger Woessmann, concludes that “gaps in achievement between the haves and have-nots are mostly unchanged over the past half century” and that “steady gains in student achievement at the eighth grade level have not translated into gains at the end of high school.”

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.

Interviews

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? 

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