McDermott conducts research on how federal, state, and local education policy affects educational equity. In 2015, she coedited a special issue of the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, on the fifty-year history of how the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act has changed US public education. Her work on state policy has focused on the connections among accountability, standardized testing, and equity. It has been published in multiple journals and in the 2011 book High Stakes Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability.
With funding from the Spencer Foundation, McDermott has researched the ways in which local politics often lead to school choice policies that do not make equity a priority. This research has been published in the American Educational Research Journal, Educational Policy, and Education Policy Analysis Archives. She was awarded a Spencer Foundation Midcareer Grant in 2016.
She received PhD in political science from Yale University.