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Reshaping Universal Preschool: Critical Perspectives on Power and Policy

reviewed by Christoforos Mamas - January 11, 2021

coverTitle: Reshaping Universal Preschool: Critical Perspectives on Power and Policy
Author(s): Lucinda G. Heimer & Ann Elizabeth Ramminger
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807761265, Pages: 160, Year: 2020
Search for book at Amazon.com

Reshaping Universal Preschool: Critical Perspectives on Power and Policy, by Lucinda G. Heimer and Ann Elizabeth Ramminger, offers critical perspectives on the possibility of achieving equitable Universal Preschool (UP) as a universal right for all children. Heimer and Ramminger do a very good job outlining and discussing the complex state of UP in the United States. In doing so, they use a critical lens stemming from critical theory and discuss issues of power and subsequent discourses constructed through power relationships. The addition of what the authors call “past and present stories” illuminates the arguments made throughout the book in a significant manner. These stories are based on research conducted in the early 2000s (past stories) and 15 years later (present stories). Furthermore, the book includes multiple perspectives from families, teachers, related and support staff, educational administrators, policymakers and researchers, as well as the general public. In my view, the “past and present stories” combined with the multiple perspectives of several key actors across Early Childhood Education represent particular strengths.

The book is organized into six main chapters. Each chapter offers insights into aspects of reshaping and rethinking UP from a critical standpoint. Heimer and Ramminger do a fine job of discussing the multiplexity of universal access and success for all three- and four-year-old children in the US. I personally value and appreciate the careful manner in which each chapter was written and the simple and understandable language and accessible prose that was used to convey complex ideas. The addition of “terminology tips” is particularly welcome. In the following paragraphs, I provide a brief summary of each chapter, discuss the numerous strengths of the book, and highlight some of the key issues discussed in the book.

Chapter One lays the foundation of the book by discussing early education in the United States, defining the key terms surrounding the field and presenting some international perspectives. The main discussion point in this chapter relates to how early childhood education in the U.S. context fits into the larger educational and social context. Chapter Two examines the intersection among the history, trends, and complexities of UP. This chapter focuses on different systems of early childhood provision, such as the Head Start federal program for low income students, and explores the notion of collaboration as a means of achieving inter-sector communication. Chapter Three explores the unequal power dynamics that are present when planning or implementing the various building blocks of UP. In Chapter Four, critical race theory is utilized to explore enrollment policy and its impacts on two sites: a school district site and a Head Start site. Chapter Five revisits the complex nature of collaboration that is required in UP. In particular, collaborative leadership is being discussed as well as its crucial role in UP movements. Last, Chapter Six provides a summary of the insights offered throughout the book. The authors acknowledge that UP provides a unique opportunity to address issues of equity in the US, but the road ahead is challenging due to issues of power, privilege, systemic oppression, financial barriers, political and social discourses, and other related challenges.  

There are a number of distinct strengths to the book. First, the inclusion of the past and present stories that were captured through research enrich the arguments made throughout the book and support the cited literature. The addition of primary research evidence has enabled the authors to make a more convincing case about the various universal preschool options. Additionally, the time element (past and present stories) has also enabled a historical overview of the evolution of the UP movements within the last 20 years. As the authors themselves note, many things have dramatically changed, but some other things remain strikingly similar. Second, the presentation of multiple perspectives and stories from numerous key players, such as those described above, provide a more holistic picture of the different actors that are central to any UP effort. All voices have been presented and the authors make a compelling case for the inclusion and active participation of all actors, including those who are traditionally excluded from change efforts. The addition of vignettes ensures that the authors stay as close as possible to the authentic voices of the participants. Third, the use of accessible language as well as the terminology tips enable the reader to access the content of the book fully. Some of the ideas and arguments put forward in the book are highly complex. The authors’ approach of employing simplified language with a lot of examples and everyday stories and of clearly defining key terms makes the book, in my opinion, much more accessible to a wider audience. In particular, the clear identification and definition of the key terms as well as other related terms makes the book ideal for audiences who want to immerse themselves or gain more knowledge about the U.S. early childhood education system. As a non-U.S. person myself, I find the book extremely informative and accessible.

In the book, a number of very important points are being made. I hereby briefly discuss two of them, as I find them relevant not only to a U.S. context but to an international context, too. First, school readiness is a concept that the authors highlight and critically discuss. On page 8, Heimer and Ramminger note that “perhaps we are asking the wrong questions.” They go on by citing Graue (2006), who argued that “the question is not how do we get children ready for school, but how do we rethink what schools looks like for children?” (p. 8). Rather than getting children ready for school (school readiness), I would rephrase this question as, “How do we get schools ready for children?” The school readiness agenda seems to be central in many other early childhood education systems, such as the United Kingdom (Parker-Rees & Leeson, 2015). Second, in Chapter Four, the authors make the case that “universal access does not necessarily translate to ‘equal access’” (p. 66). As schools and early year settings work towards achieving equity and inclusion, this is a reminder that policies may look good on paper, but in the multiple realities of the policy recipients, policies may translate differently in practice. The debate on universal and equal access has been prominent also in the space of special and inclusive education. Access to schools for students with disabilities does not necessarily translate to equal access or participation in learning in equal terms (Mamas, 2009). Therefore, in any attempt to introduce UP, the thesis of equal access should be central.

Reshaping Universal Preschool is an ideal book for those who are interested in exploring the early education landscape in the United States from a critical perspective. In the quest for establishing universal preschool and equal access to high quality early education, Heimer and Ramminger’s book offers practical recommendations on how to do so and, at the same time, acknowledges and highlights some of the associated challenges of such an endeavor.


Mamas, C. (2009). Getting along with peers in mainstream primary schools: An exploration of the social status of pupils identified as having special educational needs in Cyprus [Doctoral dissertation, University of Cambridge].

Parker-Rees, R., & Leeson, C. (Eds.). (2015). Early childhood studies. Learning Matters.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 11, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23568, Date Accessed: 1/26/2021 7:48:16 PM

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About the Author
  • Christoforos Mamas
    University of California, San Diego
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOFOROS MAMAS, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the University of California, San Diego Department of Education Studies. His research interests lie in the intersection of Early Childhood and Elementary Education and particularly concern the social networks of students with disabilities in general education settings. Recent publications include numerous papers on examining the social participation of students with designated disabilities as well as methodological papers revolving around social network analysis techniques. His latest project centers around the development of a social network analysis toolkit to enable educators explore the social dynamics within their classrooms and make informed decisions on their instructional practices.
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