Dialing in on Cell Phone Bans in High School

Jeremy Sandberg
By Jeremy Sandberg
November 8, 2018Worldshare

Like it or not teenagers are carrying cell phones. They are on their phone at the mall, on the bus, and in many cases, at school.

According to 2015 numbers from Pew Research, 73 percent of teens have access to a smartphone.

Cell phones in the classroom in particular present a variety of problems. Students can use them to cheat, they can interfere with focus, and there is also the issue of cyber-bullying.

Schools across the globe are cracking down. France’s Ministry of National Education banned cell phones from classrooms on Sept. 3, for affecting the quality of listening and concentration required for attentive learning. Israel, Greece, and a handful of schools in the United States and Canada have banned cell phones from classrooms.

Old Rochester Regional High School in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, has demonstrated how strict policy on cell phone use can prove both rational and effective. Michael Devoll, principal at Old Rochester for the last 10 years, shared his experience of having cell phones banned from the classroom.

Attention to Study

The 2013 study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (pdf) concluded out of 777 students surveyed at six United States universities, the average student used a digital device around 10 times a day for non-class related purposes. More than 80% of participants said this caused them to pay less attention and miss instruction.

In the 2015 study published by the Centre for Economic Performance (pdf), an improvement in student performance of 6.41 per cent was shown in schools that introduced a cell phone ban.

The study concludes that multi use technology like cell phones, can negatively affect productivity by causing distraction.

According to the CEP study, schools with strict policy on cell phone usage experience improvement in test scores. The study does not rule out the possibility the cell phones could be a useful learning tool, if use is well structured.

Recalling High School Experience

At first, Devoll believed cell phones could be an educational tool, for organization and tasks within the classroom that support learning. Tasks such as note taking, capturing images of the board, recording presentations, and keeping track of homework assignments.

But in 2015, teachers had enough of constantly vying for students attention. Seeking support, frustrated teachers approached Devoll expressing their concerns.

“Some of my most trusted teachers came to me and said they’re just tired of spending their entire class fighting the students on phones,” said Devoll.

Listening to teachers feedback, policy was changed. Students now keep their phones in their lockers during school hours, using them only on break.

Devoll says he understands the importance of having a phone, for planning purposes such as coordinating rides with family, securing after school work, and being informed of schedule changes when on an athletic team.

“We’re not saying they can’t access them,” said Devoll, “we’re just saying not in classes and only at their lockers.”

Michael Devoll, Principal of Old Rochester Regional High School in Mattapoisett, MA.
Michael Devoll, Principal of Old Rochester Regional High School in Mattapoisett, MA. (Courtesy of Old Rochester Regional School District)

Devoll said he felt student’s thought teachers would eventually give up the idea from applied pressure, but the teachers held their ground. There was an adjustment period of course, but some students have told him there’s more social interaction now without phones.

“[I] actually had a couple kids the first year that we did it say that lunch was better because at lunch three years ago everybody would be buried in their phones and there wasn’t much social interaction happening,” Devoll said.

According to Devoll, the majority of parents are supportive. Parents’ primary concern is being unable to reach students in the case of an emergency.

It has been three years at Old Rochester since the no cell phone in the classroom policy was implemented. Administration and teachers remain firm, and the results are positive and stable.

“Our teachers have reported that student engagement has improved dramatically,” said Devoll. “We’ve also found that we’re investigating fewer instances of bullying.”

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