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


Civic Engagement Versus Civics Education

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

There’s much about Montgomery County, Maryland, that I appreciate—starting with the fact that it’s been a fine home for me and my family for forty-plus years. There’s also much that I respect about the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and several of its current initiatives, including greater attention to the education of gifted kids, particularly those from poor and minority backgrounds.

Analysis and Commentary

Hoorah For Charter Schools Serving Kids With Disabilities

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

You might think the executive director of an organization called the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools would place the interests of children seeking the best possible special ed that charter schools can provide for them ahead of the policy preferences of IDEA (the federal special-ed law). You might even think that the fundamental precepts of school choice and parent preference might loom large in her mind. 

Analysis and Commentary

Empowering Teachers Is Necessary But Not Sufficient

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

You’ve seen plenty of comments and speculations on what last week’s election means for K–12 education (or will mean if they ever finish counting the ballots and filing lawsuits.) But not until this week did you see the conclusion by my friend Jay Mathews that education should be left to the teachers and the politicians should butt out.

Analysis and Commentary

Education As A Public Good In A Time Of Choice And Diversity

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The distinguished Stanford education historian David F. Labaree recently published a perceptive, provocative essay in the Kappan that I found myself nodding in agreement with about three-quarters of the time and shaking my head the other quarter. His thesis: Over time, American K–12 education has largely replaced its commitment to advancing the public good with a more selfish focus on securing private gains of various kinds.

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Teachers Need Sympathy—and Reform

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Hoover Digest
Monday, October 29, 2018

Teaching can be a tough, poorly paid job. But teachers need to recognize that respect must be earned, and that their unions are doing them no favors.


A Worthy Requiem For Pat Moynihan

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tragically, the mold seems to have been irrevocably shattered, if not discarded on the ash heap of history. Surrounded by the politics and politicians that plague us today, and the wretched campus climate that we’re living with, to view the great new documentary about the late Pat Moynihan is to weep over what’s practically vanished from American public and intellectual life: independent thinkers, policymakers both intrepid and persistent, respect for data, reverence for the truth, determination to stand up for what’s best about America while acknowledging its failings, and a willingness to cross the lines of party and ideology in pursuit of better outcomes for people who need them.

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Analysis and Commentary

Betsy DeVos's (Mostly) Strong National Constitution Day Address

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Thursday, September 20, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t get a lot of respect. She’s recently become the object of a mean-spirited board game and an unflattering play based on her (unflattering) confirmation hearing.


Stuyvesant High School Et. Al: The Inevitability Of Selectivity

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

There’s no perfect solution to the quandary that New York City has long faced in trying to inject greater equity into the most meritocratic of its schools: the nine selective public high schools, eight of which (including Bronx Science and Stuyvesant) rely on scores from a single test of interested eighth graders to determine who gets admitted. Exceed the ever-changing cut score for one of these schools and you’re in; fall a fraction of a point below and you’re out.

Analysis and Commentary

Socialism, Schooling, And Democracy

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party hasn’t won a lot of primaries this summer, but time may be on their side. (Well, Sanders himself will soon turn seventy-eight and may not want to wait…) So one can infer from an alarming survey of young Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four undertaken a few months back by the University of Chicago’s GenForward project. 


The Unfulfilled Promise Of High-School Choice

by Chester E. Finn Jr.via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, August 1, 2018

At first blush, high school would seem to be the part of K–12 education where choice should work best—and do the most good. Students are older, more mobile, more independent, with ideas of their own, often beginning to think about the directions they may take in life as adults.