- A bipartisan Senate bill introduced last week proposes a U.S. Department of Education-led study on the effects that cell phone use in K-12 classrooms has on students’ mental health and academic performance.
- The study would include analysis of a pilot program — created by the legislation — to provide participating schools with secure containers to store students’ phones during school hours, according to the bill from Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia. The pilot would make exceptions for students with health conditions or disabilities, and non-English speakers.
- Student cell phone use during the school day has exasperated administrators and teachers, who say overuse of devices is distracting and harmful. Some parents and students, however, say cell phones are an important tool for socialization and in emergencies.
In determining pilot schools, districts would seek input from parents, students and educators. Any school participating in the pilot program would have a communication system in place to allow teachers, administrators and staff to communicate with local emergency responders.
Participating schools also would need to have a clear process for students to be able to contact their parents, according to the six-page Focus On Learning Act.
The cell phone storage containers called for in the pilot would be controlled by school administrators, and student phone usage would be prohibited during the school day, including at lunch and in between classes.
The study would include analysis of the data collected from participating schools. National research would be conducted on elementary and secondary student cell phone use and the impact on learning, academic achievement, educational outcomes, engagement, classroom instruction, school climate and student behavior.
“Widespread use of cell phones in schools are at best a distraction for young Americans; at worst, they expose schoolchildren to content that is harmful and addictive,” said Cotton in a statement. "Our legislation will make schools remain centers of learning."
In the same statement, Kaine said schools have made progress in their recovery from the pandemic but that there's more work to be done to help students rebound from learning loss. Examining cell phone use in schools and providing that data to schools will help schools set up students for success, he said.
A Common Sense Media study of 200 students, released in September, found that 97% of 11- to 17-year-olds used their phones during the school day. Daily in-school screen time ranged from less than a minute to 6 1/2 hours with a median time of 43 minutes.
School leaders have used several strategies to curb student phone use during the school day, including prohibiting the use of certain apps, allowing phone use only at lunch or in between classes, and storing students' phones during the school day.