Chester E. Finn, Jr.

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    Author Bio:
    Chester Finn, Jr. is a scholar, educator and public servant who has been at the forefront of the national education debate for 35 years. Born and raised in Ohio, he received his doctorate from Harvard in education policy. He has served, inter alia, as a Professor of Education and Public Policy at Vanderbilt, Counsel to the U.S. ambassador to India, Legislative Director for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Research and Improvement. A senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and chairman of Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, Finn is also President of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. He serves on the board of several other organizations concerned with primary-secondary schooling. The author of 16 books and more than 400 articles, his work has appeared in such publications as The Weekly Standard, Christian Science Monitor, Commentary, The Public Interest, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Education Week, Harvard Business Review and Boston Globe. Dr. Finn is the recipient of awards from the Educational Press Association of America, Choice Magazine, the Education Writers Association, and the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He holds an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colgate University. He and his wife, Renu Virmani, a physician, have two grown children and two adorable little granddaughters.  They live in Chevy Chase, Maryland.


America’s Smart Kids Left Behind

Catching up to our global peers will require changing education policy and culture

Different Kids Need Different Credentials

Forum: Rethinking the High School Diploma

WINTER 2015 / Vol. 15, No. 1

Rethinking the 
High School Diploma

Education Next talks with 
Chester E. Finn, Jr., Richard D. Kahlenberg and Sandy Kress

WINTER 2015 / Vol. 15, No. 1

Ending Our Neglect of Gifted Students

It’s a matter of fairness, equal opportunity , and long-term societal well-being.

Can Digital Learning Transform Education?

Education Next talks with Chester E. Finn, Jr., and Michael B. Horn

Exam Schools from the Inside

Racially diverse, subject to collective bargaining, fulfilling a need

FALL 2012 / VOL. 12, NO. 4

First, We Need a Brand New K–12 System

Part 1 of a forum on whether digital learning can transform education

Winter 2013 / Vol. 13, No. 1

A Battle Begun, Not Won

The following essay is part of a forum, written in honor of Education Next’s 10th anniversary, in which the editors assessed the school reform movement’s victories and challenges to see just how successful reform efforts have been. For the other side of the debate, please see Pyrrhic Victories? by Frederick M. Hess, Michael J. Petrilli, […]

Spring 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 2

Authorizing Charters

Helping mom-and-pops in Ohio

Fall 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 4

Education Data in 2025

Fifteen years hence, we will know exactly how well our schools, teachers, and students are doing

Winter 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 1

E Pluribus Unum?

Two longtime school reformers debate the merits of a national curriculum

Spring 2009 / Vol. 9, No. 2

The Preschool Picture

Universal preschool will be a boon for middle-class parents. How it will help poor kids catch up is not so obvious.

Fall 2009 / Vol. 9, No. 4

More Money for Less Accountability?

I don’t think so!

Spring 2009 / Vol. 9, No. 2


The education of Chester Finn

Spring 2008 / Vol. 8, No. 2

Crash Course

NCLB is driven by education politics

Fall 2007 / Vol. 7, No. 4

What Innovators Can, and Cannot, Do

Squeezing into local markets and cutting deals

Spring 2007 / Vol. 7, No. 2

A New New Federalism

The case for national standards and tests

Fall 2006 / Vol. 6, No. 4

Selective Reporting

Quality Counts 2001, A Better Balance: Standards, Tests, and the Tools to Succeed by the editors of Education Week

Fall 2001 / Vol. 1, No. 3

Just the Facts

School Figures: The Data Behind the Debate
by Hanna Skandera and Richard Sousa
Hoover Institution, 2003, $15; 342 pp.

Spring 2004 / Vol. 4, No. 2

Faulty Engineering

The diversity of values within American society renders public schools ill-equipped to produce the engaged citizens our democracy requires

Spring 2004 / Vol. 4, No. 2

Lost at Sea

Early 20th century Progressive reformers established elected school boards as a means of shielding public school systems from the politics and patronage of corrupt city governments. Citizens, rather than political dons or their favored appointees, would govern the community’s schools with the community’s interests at heart. Today, however, elected school boards, especially in America’s troubled […]

Summer 2004 / Vol. 4, No. 3

Book Alert

The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market, by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane; Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap, by Richard Rothstein; Leaving No Child Behind? Options for Kids in Failing Schools, by Frederick M. Hess and Chester E. Finn Jr., eds.; Standards Deviation: How Schools Misunderstand Education Policy, by James P. Spillane

Winter 2005 / Vol. 5, No. 1

Paying Teachers Properly

That the uniform salary “schedule” for teachers is obsolete and dysfunctional is a truth widely accepted but rarely challenged.

Winter 2005 / Vol. 5, No. 1

Tread on Me—but Lightly

The Era of Big Government Is Complicated

Summer 2005 / Vol. 5, No. 3

Things Are Falling Apart

Can the center find a solution that will hold?

Winter 2006 / Vol. 6, No. 1

Blog Posts/Multimedia

R.I.P. John Chubb

John Chubb was a fine scholar, tireless education reformer, and creative innovator.


Should NAEP Tests Be Updated to Reflect What’s in the Common Core?

It’s critical that NAEP’s math (and reading and writing) frameworks not flex with recent changes in standards, curriculum or pedagogical emphasis.


Pell Grants Should Go (Only) to Needy Students Who Are Ready for College

What if we stopped subsidizing remedial courses on campuses and insisted that students pursuing higher learning be prepared for college-level courses? And what if those courses were also made available to young people even before they matriculated to a four-year program?


Charter Schools: Taking Stock

It’s time to review the progress of the charter movement and the challenges that lie ahead, what we’ve done right as well as where we’ve gone astray..


New Poll Offers News Both Heartening and Glum for Education Reformers

When it comes to fundamental principles and practices regarding K–12 education, the American public is generally pretty sensible and steadfast.


A Pause in the History Wars

The College Board deserves a cheer for trying to stabilize the vessel known as Advanced Placement U.S. History


Is a Massive New Set of Federal Regulations the Best Way to Reform Head Start?

Head Start is an example of sound impulses gone missing into the jungles of governmental extravagance and bureaucracy.


RIP, Marva Collins

Marva Collins put her own money and reputation on the line to prove that poor minority kids could succeed just fine if given the right kinds of expectations, encouragement, and instruction.


Will States Tell Parents and Students the Truth About College Readiness?

Amid way too much talk about testing and the Common Core, not enough attention is being paid to what parents will actually learn about their children’s achievement when results are finally released from the recent round of state assessments .


Defining ‘College Readiness’ Down

Not only is middle school content finding its way into college classrooms, college credit is being awarded for learning it.



The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, unveiled a few days back by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and scheduled for HELP Committee mark-up on April 14, is a remarkable piece of work.


Can Gifted Education Survive the Common Core?

The advent of the Common Core standards can and should boost the learning of America’s ablest young learners, not serve as a rationale for denying them opportunities to fulfill their potential.


The Conservative Case for HR 5

The “Student Success Act” would, if enacted, be the most conservative federal education move in a quarter century.


The Future of School Accountability

Telling states how to operate their accountability systems hasn’t worked. It’s time to put the accountability monkey back onto the backs of states.


NCLB Accountability is Dead; Long Live ESEA Testing

Despite frantic efforts by a number of groups to preserve some sort of federal accountability mandates in the next ESEA cycle, I think these should go away and almost surely will.


Is It Quality Or Quantity That Counts?

Ah, January is upon us: The wind is howling, the thermometer is plummeting, and we are greeted by the nineteenth consecutive edition of Quality Counts, Education Week’s compilation of mostly useful data, analysis, rankings and commentaries.


Barack Obama’s Love Affair With Universality

The real problem is the failure of existing schools and programs to do right by those who need the most help


Punishing Achievement In Our Schools

The most recent exercise of mission creep and nanny-statism by the Office for Civil Rights involves what the enforcers call “equal access to educational resources.”


A Five Point Plan To Resuscitate Catholic Schools

Two big changes in American education policy have been good for kids in general, but not particularly good for Catholic schools, especially the urban variety.


Time for a Reboot

It’s probably time for education reformers and policymakers to admit that just pushing harder on test-driven accountability as the primary tool for changing our creaky old public school system is apt to yield more backlash than accomplishment


The Challenges of AP History: Are You Sure You Want College Credit?

The trickle downward of university curricular mischief into our schools and other institutions continues unabated, and it’s not a problem that the College Board alone can solve.


The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach

Why do American public schools spend more of their operating budgets on non-teachers than almost every other country in the world, including nations that are as prosperous and humane as ours?


Save Our Data! Protect the Integrity of Education Statistics

Everything you may be trying to accomplish, change, or protect in American education hinges more than you might realize on the integrity of our education data system and that data system is more vulnerable than you might think.


Education Reform in 2014

On August 1, Chester E. “Checker” Finn, Jr., will step down from his role as founding president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, passing the baton to Michael J. Petrilli. Here is his “farewell address” as president.



What is the benefit conferred by preschool if there’s no school after the pre?


We’ll Miss You, Michael Gove

The path on which Gove and his predecessors placed English education resembles the path taken by U.S. education reformers.


Whither the NEA?

Perhaps the historic coupling of the NEA and the Democratic Party is loosening a bit.


The NCES, NIEER, and Spinning Preschool Data

The job of a statistical agency is to provide people with data by which they can judge these things for themselves. On the preschool front, the National Center for Education Statistics has let the country down.


Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement

Principal hiring practices continue to fall short of what is needed, effectively causing needy schools to lose out on leaders with the potential to be great.


Pie in the Special-Ed Sky?

Will the new federal regulatory scheme lead to real change on the ground?


The ‘Balanced Literacy’ Hoax

Balanced literacy is neither “balanced” nor “literacy,” at least not in the sense that poor kids taught to read via this approach will end up literate.


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

State education leaders will have to decide if their states are ready to move forward with consequences based on Common Core assessments.


Intellectual Coherence and the Common Core

Once educators and local (and state) officials see how poorly their kids do on tougher assessments and what the standards really require, they will start looking for better curricular materials and training.


Now You’re Entitled To Your Own Facts Too

In the preschool realm, the U.S. Department of Education has it outsourced the number-gathering to a prominent interest group in the field and it has allowed that interest group to add its own spin.


Almost, Peggy, But This Time Not Quite

When it comes to the Common Core State Standards, Peggy Noonan is only about 60 percent right.


Is Differentiated Instruction a Hollow Promise?

Teachers are expected to be all things to (almost) all youngsters, but most acknowledge that, while technology and small classes surely help, they do not feel like they’re differentiating all that well.


The Opt-Out Outrage

Is it legal to opt your child out of state tests? Should it be legal?


Education’s Endless, Erroneous Either-Ors

The K–12 education world brims with debates and dichotomies that get us into all manner of needless quarrels and cul-de-sacs, thus messing up every reform initiative and retarding progress.


Disciplining the Undisciplined

The tough letter that senior House Republicans sent last week to Arne Duncan and Eric Holder should have been even tougher. For the “guidance” that their agencies issued to U.S. schools in the guise of improving school discipline can only make it harder for educators to create safe, serious, and effective learning environments.

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