Students who are placed at risk due to poverty, race, ethnicity, language, or other factors are rarely well served by their schools (Hilliard, 1989; Letgers, McDill, & McPartland, 1993). They often attend schools where they are tracked into substandard courses and programs holding low expectations for learning (Oakes, 1985; Wheelock, 1992).
Much of the curriculum and instruction provided to educationally disadvantaged students assumes that academic skills are hierarchical in nature. For example, it is assumed that students must learn the basics of vocabulary and phonics before they can learn to read critically or for comprehension (Means & Knapp, 1991). Yet cognitive research on reading comprehension has shown that students can acquire comprehension skills well before they are good decoders of the printed word (Palincsar & Klenk, 1991). Likewise, teachers have emphasized the aquisition of basic skills for at-risk students. When computers are present in schools serving at-risk students, they usually are used for drill-and-practice programs on basic skills. Such applications of technology have limited benefits for students.
To promote meaningful learning for all students, technology must be used in real-world applications that support research, design, analysis, composition, and communication. Letgers and McDill (1994) state:
"Maintaining access to technology throughout the student's school career, integrating technology so that it is available for all kinds of learning, and deploying uses of technology that move away from traditional teaching and learning methods are necessary components of a successful technology strategy for educating students at risk." (p. 11)
For further information, refer to the Critical Issue "Using Technology to Enhance Engaged Learning for At-Risk Students."