Chester Finn, Jr. has been a “troublemaker” all his life, so much so that he chose the term as the title for his own memoir.
Finn is still making trouble as a supporter of Common Core.
Called “Checker” by those who know him, Finn has been an indefatigable warrior for education reform for some 50 years. Working on both sides of the political divide, Finn began his career as a lieutenant to Democratic sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whom he followed to the Nixon White House, to India during Moynihan’s ambassadorship there, and finally to the U.S. Senate where he worked as a legislative director.
After departing from Moynihan’s service, and distressed at an increased leftward tilt in the Democratic Party, Finn began to work primarily on the political right, serving as an Assistant Secretary of Education to Ronald Reagan and taking up posts at the right-leaning Hudson Institute and Hoover Institution think tanks.
Today, Finn is the president of the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute, a think tank focused in particular on education reform.
Despite the shift, Finn prefers to avoid the label “conservative,” in part because there is little he seeks to conserve in America’s schools.
“Conservatives by definition are supposed to want to keep things the way they are, or were…and I don’t want any of those things in education,” Finn told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I think the whole enterprise needs a thorough shake-up, and I think that’s a radical idea, not a conservative one.”
Finn has spent decades working to battle what he dubs “the blob,” the mass of entrenched interests such as teachers unions and school administrators who work to block most aggressive reform efforts in education. Finn was among the earliest and strongest advocates for charter schools, vouchers, and other means for increasing school choice while undermining “the blob.”
Another success in Finn’s career, and the one he regards as his paramount achievement, has been a major increase in the use of standardized assessments to compare the progress of students across the country.