Why and How Effective Smart Phone Policy is a Low-Cost Solution to Provide Learning Equity and Improve High-state Test Scores.

Current research shows that having an effective smartphone policy is a low-cost solution to provide learning equity and improve high-stake test scores.

If adults are addicted, our children have no chance.

The PEW survey revealed that 95% of US teens own smartphones (Pew, 2019), and just the presence of a smartphone is enough to distract students. Effective smartphone policies ban increased schools’ high-state average scores by 6%, and the lowest-achieving students increased by 14%.  However, it did not affect the highest achieving students. (Beland & Murphy, 2016, p. 18). Therefore, schools’ smartphone policies need to focus on improving low-achieving students’ behaviors because high-achieving students will comply with little resistance.

I know that you are busy, so I will summarize findings from different research studies to show you the rising negative impacts of smartphones on students’ well-being and learning outcomes.

Why do schools and educators fail to enforce a schoolwide ban on cell phone policies?

To date, a schoolwide ban on smartphone policies and laws, such as in France, have been widely unsuccessful (McConville, 2018). Educators in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools largely do not enforce smartphone policies because they do not have the practical means, resources, and time to enforce the policies’ consequences (Libquaid, 2009). The daily and ongoing struggle to enforce smartphone use in schools and classrooms forces educators, support staff, and other school personnel to give up and embrace the approach of “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

Why confiscating or locking up all students’ smartphones schoolwide is counterproductive and possibly illegal.

Counterproductive: Smartphones and their many applications have become an integral part of students’ lives. Therefore, schools need to teach students how to use smartphones productively. Students using different functions and apps on smartphones for educational purposes can enhance and expand their learning. Most importantly, students would never have the opportunities to learn the SEL skills of self-regulation, social awareness, accountability, and leadership. A schoolwide ban on smartphones removes any opportunities for students to exercise any choices throughout the day.

Unsuccessful: Very few teachers would waste their time policing cell phones outside their classrooms. Administrators also do not have the time to follow through with consequences.

Legal Consequences: Confiscating or locking all students’ smartphones can result in legal liability because of sexting and emergency.  Locking up or confiscating all students’ phones during emergencies like natural disasters or school shootings may lead to severe legal liability (Smale, Ryan, and Charles, 2021).

What are the potential benefits of using cell phones in classrooms?

Some argue that smartphone use in classrooms has many benefits only when educators can manage their students to use smartphones for academic purposes. For example, smartphones can enhance students’ engagement, collaboration, digital knowledge,  and access to eBooks and other online resources (Wainwright, 2012). Students can also use smartphones to create academic content by recording videos and taking pictures (Thomas & O’Bannon, 2013). However, these benefits are only possible if educators can make sure that their students are using their phones for academic purposes. How does an educator do that in a class of 36 students? How do we know if those teachers are just making excuses to allow those students to be on their smartphones because it is easier to keep students quiet?

In addition, the discreet nature of smartphone use makes it impossible for any teachers to ensure that all students use cell phones for purely academic purposes. Students can easily hide it in their pockets, behind textbooks, or other items on their desks.

What are the negative consequences of ineffective cell phone policies in schools?

What is sexting and why educators should never confiscate students’ phones

Sexting is a combination of “sex” and “texting.” Sexing is the act of creating and distributing sexually explicit images via cell phones on different communication platforms. A 2008 survey revealed that “71% of girls and 67% of boys reported sending sexually suggestive messages and images to their boyfriend/girlfriend” (Chaudhary et al., 2017, p. 2).  When a teacher or an administrator confiscates and searches (intentionally or accidentally)  a student’s phone, they could jeopardize their careers because students’ phones may have “child pornography” from sexting (Hachiya, 2017).

Sexting, Pornography, Drugs, and Addictions

A 2008 survey revealed that “71% of girls and 67% of boys reported sending sexually suggestive messages and images to their boyfriend/girlfriend” (Chaudhary et al., 2017, p. 2). Also, 93% of boys and 62% of girls view pornography by the age of 18 (Sabina et al., 2018).  Growing studies show that sexting is associated with poor mental health and a higher chance of anxiety and depression among children and teens. Furthermore, teens who sexted, especially victims, are likely to have thoughts of suicide (Dake et al., 2012; Libquaid, 2009; Walker & Moat, 2010). Nude images and other explicit images or videos of teens often become viral on many different social media platforms. Recent studies show that TikTok’s algorithm promotes sexual content, drugs, and alcohol to children under 13. WSJ used bot accounts for the age of 13-15 on TikTok.  They learned a “13-year-old account was shown 569 videos about drug use including references to cocaine and meth addiction, as well as promotional videos for the online sales of drug products”(www.dailymail.co.uk,2021). Likewise, other social media algorithms manipulate what people see online in order to keep them addicted to scrolling through endless content and personalized promoted ads. Asking teachers to create engaging lessons that can compete for students’ attention is asking them to do the impossible. Therefore, it is also doubtful that a teacher can ensure that all students are using cell phones for academic purposes.

Sexting, Cyberbullying, Bullying, and Self-Harms

A 2018 PEW survey finds that 59% of U.S teens have experienced at least one form of cyberbullying: offensive name-calling (42%), false rumors (32%), receiving unwanted explicit images (25%), asked for personal information (21%), physical threats (16%), and shared explicit images of them without consent (7%) (pewresearch.org, 2018).

Unlike bullying, cyberbullying is discreet and subtle, but its severe consequences have no boundaries or limitations. In 2008, an 18-year-old high school student took her life after her peers disseminated a nude image that she emailed to her boyfriend. In 2009, a 13-year-old girl also took her life after her naked breast went viral. Today, there are many addicting and powerful social media platforms that make cyberbullying even worse.

E-Cheating and Academic dishonesty

Cell phones not only make cheating a lot easier, but it changes students’ attitudes toward cheating and academic dishonesty. A 2010 survey of 20,000 students revealed, respectively, that about 73% and 60% of first-year university students cheated on assignments and tests (Bain, 2015).  It’s easy for any student to use smartphones to cheat secretively,  and the advancement in today’s apps and mobile phones make it easier. The data is much worse in elementary, middle, and high schools. Some common rising problems in these settings include classroom discipline problems, high-failure rates, low high-state test scores, learning inequity, and other issues related to students’ well-being.

Legal Issues due to confiscation of phones

Commonly, educators and other school personnel enforce cell phone policies by confiscating and searching students’ phones. However, such practices often lead to unwanted lawsuits and legal litigation due to the invasion of students’ privacy. Although judges often support educators, some have lost their jobs due to legal liability. A common legal liability is educators viewing sexual and child pornography on students’ phones. Consequently, many educators and other school personnel are afraid to confiscate students’ phones (Smale, Ryan, and Charles, 2021).

Recommendations for Policy and Practice

Many current cell phone policies are unsuccessful because they merely see cell phones as a technology. Districts and schools create generic cell phone policies that push the responsibilities to classroom teachers and school personnel without giving them any practical enforcement tools, strategies, or resources. More importantly, the policies are behind the evolving technology of smartphones and their many apps.

Current research shows that many schools’ policies on cell phones are unsuccessful. Is your school facing similar problems?

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