Academic journal article Education Next

A Tribute to Martha Derthick

Academic journal article Education Next

A Tribute to Martha Derthick

Article excerpt

WITH MARTHA DERTHICK'S PASSING on January 12, 2015, America lost one of its preeminent scholars of American politics. Her friends, colleagues, and students lost an irreplaceable source of wisdom and encouragement. And at Education Next, where Martha had been a co-author of the Legal Beat column, we lost an outstanding contributor to our understanding of the legal underpinnings of education policy.

A native of Ohio, Martha graduated from Hiram College in 1954 and then attended graduate school at Radcliffe. After receiving her PhD under V.O. Key in 1962, she taught at several institutions including Stanford and Harvard but spent most of her career at the Brookings Institution, serving as director of its Governance Studies Program from 1978 to 1983, and at the University of Virginia, where she was the Julia Allen Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs until her retirement in 1999.

Martha was a scholar of great breadth and originality. A truncated list of the topics she studied includes tobacco politics, the National Guard, the Social Security Administration, policy implementation, and deregulation. Throughout her career federalism remained a central concern. "Americans chose," she once wrote, "to be both one great nation and many relatively quite small, local communities." No one understood better than Martha the tensions, challenges, and opportunities that choice created for the American Republic, and she devoted much of her scholarship to exploring how the contradictory impulses of centralization and decentralization could complement each other. She was an acute student and often passionate defender of local institutions, including America's schools. It is at the local level, she believed, that character is molded, enabling individuals to become worthy citizens.

Wide praise and recognition followed Martha's work. Policymaking for Social Security, which won the Gladys Kammerer of the American Political Science Association (APSA), is her best-known and is generally considered her most important book. She argued, against the prevailing consensus, that the political success of Social Security was not inevitable but was shaped by administrative behavior, institutional autonomy, and voters' preferences. Two of her many books, The Influence of Federal Grants and The Politics of Deregulation, received the National Academy of Public Administration's Brownlow Award. …

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