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NEA Advice

Addressing Disproportionality: Seven Questions Every Parent Should Ask

Parents, caregivers, and community members, working with their local schools, can ensure culturally and linguistically diverse students receive an excellent and appropriate education.
Published: June 2020
This resource originally appeared on

Disproportionality is the over- and under-representation of culturally and linguistically diverse children (CLD) in special education and gifted and/or talented programs.

Research suggests that a child’s race and ethnicity significantly influence the probability that he or she will be misidentified as needing special education. This mis-identification can have immediate and long term negative effects. CLD students have higher rates of office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions from school. Often, they receive more severe punishment than white students do for the same type of behavior. And they face limited, less rigorous curriculum, race-segregated classes, and diminished opportunities after graduating. 


Every child, regardless of race, culture, zip code or need, should have access to a great public education. We advocate for special education funding to ensure students who need it get the support and services they deserve. But we also believe that tackling disproportionality is part of our responsibility to bring racial and social justice to all students, families, and communities.

Questions to Ask

To help educators, allies, parents, and policy-makers explore and address disproportionality in their schools, we created the following questions.

  1. To what extent are quality early childhood services available in your community?
  2. How culturally appropriate is the curriculum?  What guidelines are used to ensure that assessments are culturally responsive?
  3. What types of early intervening services, programs, and supports are available in your school or district?  Are they available to all students who need them?
  4. To what extent are the school discipline policies responsive to cultural differences?  To what extent are data on the incidence and durations of disciplinary actions (such as suspensions and expulsions) disaggregated by race or ethnicity?
  5. What professional development programs are available to assist teachers with developing culturally responsive teaching strategies and classroom management skills?
  6. How are parents, educators, and community leaders able to become productively engaged in your district's or school's plan to address disproportionality?
  7. To what extent are the resources and supports for addressing disproportionality sufficiently funded?

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