Years of struggling with students who are more interested in their phones than classroom lessons has convinced a Massachusetts school district to try a new way.
While Lowell High School will join a growing number of schools who are seeing positive results from prohibiting phone use during instructional time, students are not excited about the change taking effect on Monday, WBTS reports.
“Over the past several years, cell phones have become a serious distraction in the classroom, not only to learning, but to student engagement,” according to a district statement cited by Boston.com. “By eliminating the distraction, the time we have for learning and meaningful interaction is made more efficient and effective, which is a win for both the students and the teachers.”
The school’s new policy requires students to turn in their phones to their teachers at the beginning of class and retrieve them after, allowing them to continue to use the devices between classes and during lunch.
Aside from cutting down distractions, school officials have cited potential benefits of reducing anxiety and depression, as well as cyberbullying.
Students and others, however, see it differently. An online petition from a “Coalition Against Tyranny” argues the policy creates “unnecessary tension between teachers and students,” while removing what some view as a lifeline in case of an emergency.
“We believe this newer, stricter policy was not crafted with the student’s best interest in mind, nor with our safety and security as a consideration, and this policy has been met with widespread opposition from us students,” wrote junior Kendrick Del Orbe, who started the petition that now has nearly 1,300 signatures. “This is not just an inconvenience; it’s an overt security risk and is a distraction from the real issue in our classrooms; unengaging curriculum and condescending teachers.”
Another student who spoke with WBZ expressed frustration that school officials are taking away something they’re paying to use.
“My mom doesn’t pay for my phone, I pay for my phone, so I think it’s just rude that they are taking your property,” the teen said.
Several adults who spoke with WFXT had mixed reactions.
“I feel like cell phones are a distraction, especially in Lowell,” Shawn Osorio said. “[But] in a mass shooting you can’t bring a gun into a school but if someone does it what are you gonna do? Especially if you don’t have a cell phone you can’t call for help.”
“I think it might be a good idea so that way kids can pay attention more to class rather than focusing more on their social media,” Mary Logan said.
District officials have acknowledged student concerns with the policy, but are moving ahead nonetheless.
“While we applaud the students who oppose the policy for making their voices heard, we urge them to unplug for a while and give the policy a chance to see how it works,” a district spokesperson wrote in response to the petition. “This policy will be reviewed at the end of the school year to see if any changes need to be made, but we would like everyone to give it a fair chance before condemning it.”
In many districts that have enacted similar restrictions, it didn’t take a full school year to recognize the impact eliminating phones in the classroom has both on learning and the school environment.
“The learning change in the classroom is remarkable. Students are engaged because they’re not getting notifications in their pocket,” Sarah Speight, a Boone High School ninth-grade English teacher in Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel. The Orange County district banned phones in August, and Speight predicted in December “that we’re going to see a positive impact on test scores for the schools that have implemented this with consistency.”
The change in Orange County stems from a Florida law passed last year that prohibits student phone use during “instructional time” that’s making a positive impact across the state.
“I don’t know … what went into making up that rule, but I can tell you that the result of it on a very side scale has been extraordinarily positive for (students’) mental health from an anecdotal perspective,” Edgewater High School Principal Heather Kreider told Education Week.
“I have only seen positive things,” East River High School Principal Becky Watson confirmed to the Sentinel.
At Minnesota’s Maple Grove Middle School, Principal Patrick Smith told WCCO the difference after banning phones made there was “night and day.”
“I believe (the ban) is game-changing and will have lasting impacts on our students for years to come,” he said.
“In the grand scheme of things, kids are happy. They’re engaging with each other,” Smith told the Chad Hartman Show. “The hallway behavior, it’s just night and day.”
Maple Grove parents are reporting positive results, as well.
“I do notice that he is thriving and really focused and doing really well,” parent Kim Gillen told WCCO. “Participates in class discussions. I get feedback from the teachers on that.”
A recent study from Common Sense Media examining smartphone data of 200 students found 97% of 11- to 17-year-olds use their phones during the school day, with the amount of in-school screen time ranging from less than a minute to 6.5 hours, with a median time of 43 minutes.
The study found students picked up their phones a media of 51 times per day, though pickup amounts ranged from two to 498 times per day, K-12 Dive reports.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows 91% of schools banned nonacademic use of phones during the 2009-10 school year, a figure that declined to 66% by 2015-16, before rebounding to 77% in 2019-20, according to the news site.