- Districts across the state of Wisconsin are banning cell phone use in classrooms, reports Education Week.
- The policy is a turn-around from previous district thinking that judicious use of phones for classroom research and the like could engage students, who have grown up with technology literally in the palms of their hands.
- This latest position reflects a realization that phones are by and large a distraction, and unnecessary with schools issuing laptops to all students for classwork. The move brings consistency to rules around cell phone use, as opposed to individual teachers setting their own policies.
What to do about students and cell phones in the classroom is a question school leaders have been wrestling with for years now. When the issue first started cropping up, many schools simply adopted a no-phone policy. When it became evident, though, that this was a losing battle (at least in part to parents, having grown used to being able to reach their children 24/7, wanting them to have their phone at school in case of emergency), schools turned to trying to put phones to good use, as was the case in Wisconsin.
Now, though, the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way. Recent studies have shown that using cell phones in class, even for educational purposes like taking notes, can lower retention of material and test scores. Many teachers feel that phone use also takes a toll on students' mental and physical health. There is also the potential problem of cyberbullying.
One problem with banning cell phones is how school leaders can realistically enforce it, and what the consequences would be for breaking the rules. Of particular concern is whether texting in class, say, could turn into another low-level infraction that might lead to disciplinary measures with far-reaching consequences that don't fit the crime.
Some experts say the most realistic approach is not pretending that it's still possible, in 2018, to stop all students from using their phones, ever, in school. There are too many variables: Teacher personalities, vagaries in student learning styles (some differently-abled students may actually do better using their phones as learning tools), and circumstances where taking a picture of the smart board or texting a parent about a forgotten extracurricular that afternoon is reasonable or even necessary. Instead, these education leaders say, productive smartphone policies are a negotiation of sorts between teachers and students, built around mutual trust.