Chester E. Finn Jr.

Senior Fellow

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


States Should Use ESSA To Do Right By High-Achieving Students

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Fordham Institute’s new report, High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, examines whether states’ current or planned accountability systems for elementary and middle schools attend to the needs of high-achieving students, as well as how these systems might be redesigned under the Every Student Succeeds Act to better serve all students. 

Analysis and Commentary

High Stakes For High Achievers

by Michael J. Petrilli, David Griffith, Brandon L. Wright , Audrey Kim, Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Wednesday, August 31, 2016

State accountability in the age of ESSA.

Analysis and Commentary

We Must Diversify Charter School Options

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Bruno V. Manno, Brandon L. Wright via Education Week
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

June 4 marked the 25th anniversary of Minnesota's charter school law, the nation's first. In 1990, charter pioneer Ted Kolderie foresaw that chartering would "introduce the dynamics of choice, competition, and innovation into America's public school system, while at the same time ensuring that new schools serve broad public purposes."

Analysis and Commentary

Sorting Out The Advice For Mark Zuckerberg And Priscilla Chan

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Monday, August 22, 2016

My respected friend Marc Tucker—in his open letter taking issue with my earlier missive —sorely misinterpreted or misstated one of my central points, so I must at least try to set the record straight. 


Knowledge Matters: E. D. Hirsch, Jr.'s Fifth Book On Education Is As Important As His First

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Don Hirsch has done it again. Never mind that he’s eighty-eight. Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories, his fifth book on education reform—there were at least five earlier ones in his original field of English literature, criticism, and composition—is as clear and trenchant as Cultural Literacy was in 1987. 

Analysis and Commentary

Americans Win Gold At Math Olympiad

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Friday, August 12, 2016

While everyone is fixated on the Rio Olympics and the impressive start that U.S. athletes have made there, it’s worth a brief detour to the results of another summer competition—this one in Hong Kong—in which the American team dominated: the International Math Olympiad (IMO) for high-school students.


California Goes Over The Rainbow: An Accountability Farce

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

No, I’m not referring to the Golden State’s rich palette of ethnic and other minority (and majority) groups, nor to its desire that they’ll live, work, and go to school in harmony, like Monet’s Water Lilies or Matisse’s Fauve masterpieces. I’m on the case of California’s nutty new color-coded approach to school accountability and school report cards. 

Analysis and Commentary

An Open Letter To Mark Zuckerberg And Priscilla Chan

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via EducationNext
Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Focus your philanthropy on innovation outside the system.

Analysis and Commentary

The End Of Education Reform?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Friday, July 15, 2016

For three decades, leaders of both major political parties have recognized the urgency of reforming and renewing American K–12 education, and major elements of the reform agenda have generally enjoyed bipartisan support: higher standards, better teachers, results-based accountability, and more choices (particularly via charter schools).

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Education Reform Decouples

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Defining Ideas
Thursday, July 14, 2016

For years, the movement was held together by centrists on the left and right—but now it’s grown polarized.