Chester E. Finn Jr.

Senior Fellow
Research Team: 
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 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

Featured

The Sorry History Of “What Works” In School

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, April 1, 2021

My friend and colleague Mike Petrilli is understandably proud of Fordham’s spanking new Acceleration Imperative: A Plan to Address Elementary Students’ Unfinished Learning in the Wake of Covid-19. He’s worked super-hard to midwife it, engaging great outside help, drawing support from the Fordham board, and committing endless hours of his own, even as a few of his colleagues voiced reservations. 

Featured

Cautious Hope For A New History-And-Civics Roadmap

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, March 4, 2021

Bullish but far from sanguine is how I view the ambitious history-and-civics “roadmap” unveiled this week by the “Educating for American Democracy” (EAD) project.

Featured

Jay Mathews’s Admirable Optimism About American Education

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, March 4, 2021

Yes, I blurbed it—and I like it. Yes, a visitor to our home, a worldly and skeptical sort, hefted it and looked at the title and asked me “Isn’t that awfully thick for a book about optimism regarding American public education?”

Featured

Power To The People? Part 2: History’s Lessons For “Community Control”

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, February 25, 2021

In last week’s Gadfly, I shared some misgivings about today’s push for “community control” on the part of many education reformers and philanthropists. Now I want to explain how my misgivings are informed by a pair of previous such ventures, dating back to my earliest—perhaps formative—exposure to earnest efforts to boost the lives and prospects of poor Americans and people of color. I’m mindful of the maxim, attributed to many, but most authentically to Santayana, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Featured

Power To The People? Part I

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, February 18, 2021

Perhaps the biggest buzz in education-reform circles these days, and among the philanthropies that pay for such things, is community empowerment and community control. Instead of welcoming ideas, programs, strategies, and schools devised by distant experts, policy wonks, do-gooders, and state leaders—all of whom tend to be white and privileged—the traditional power relationships should be reversed, advocates say. 

Interviews

Chester Finn: The Education Gadfly Show: Federal Covid-19 Stimulus, Round Three

interview with Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Thursday, February 4, 2021

Hoover Institution fellow Chester Finn discusses what the latest proposed federal stimulus package would mean for America’s schools.

Analysis and Commentary

How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Back In That Old School?

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, February 4, 2021

If the pandemic vanished tomorrow and all U.S. schools instantly reopened in exactly the same fashion as they were operating last February, how many parents would be satisfied to return their daughters and sons to the same old familiar classrooms, teachers, schedules and curricula?

Analysis and Commentary

Eight Recommendations For The Biden Administration

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Next
Monday, January 25, 2021

Besides pumping tons more recovery dollars into schools, getting more teachers vaccinated, and trying to get many more kids back into classrooms, what might the Biden-Cardona team do in K–12 education that would actually be worthwhile?

Analysis and Commentary

The Education Exchange: The Future Of Results-Based Accountability In Education

by Paul E. Peterson interview with Chester E. Finn Jr.via The Education Exchange
Monday, January 4, 2021

A Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Chester E. Finn, Jr., joins Paul E. Peterson to discuss Finn’s new policy analysis, which looks into the state of school accountability five years after the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Featured

U.S. Students Continue To Fall Short Of Too Many International Peers

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)
Thursday, December 10, 2020
TIMSS is less well known to most American ed-watchers than NAEP and PISA, perhaps because it comes from a private group called the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), but it does a first-rate job of monitoring, comparing, and explaining the educational performance of fourth- and eighth-graders in dozens of countries in the crucial subjects of math and science.

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