Will Smartphones in Classrooms Be a Thing of the Past?

Spend any amount of time in a middle school or high school classroom across California, and you will witness firsthand the impact of smartphones on students’ education. In March, the results of one middle school teacher’s experiment went viral. Mary Garza encouraged students to leave their phones on, and turned up loud, during a single class period. The students then tallied each time they received a notification. In one class period, her students received over 300 text messages. The class also tallied Instagram alerts, emails, and other phone alerts. Her students received 32 phone calls during one class period on a typical school day. Overall, instruction was interrupted over 1,000 times in one period.

To address the impact of smartphone technology on students’ education, California Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, representing the South Bay region of Los Angeles, introduced Assembly Bill 272, which, through proposed Education Code section 48901.7, would require school districts, county offices of education and charter schools to adopt a policy to limit or prohibit the use of smartphones while students are on campus or under the supervision of school employees.

Currently, Education Code section 48901.5 permits schools to regulate phone usage. The newly proposed bill would require the restrictions, and if passed would necessitate changes in many school policies and practices. Some districts already have bans or restrictions in place. For example, in February, Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District approved a new administrative regulation that requires students in kindergarten through fifth grade to keep their phones off or in “Do Not Disturb” mode during school hours and older students must obtain teacher approval to keep their devices on during the school day.

In support of AB 272, the bill cites to “ growing evidence that unrestricted use of smartphones by pupils at elementary and secondary schools during the school day interferes with the educational mission of the schools, lowers pupil performance, particularly among low-achieving pupils, promotes cyberbullying, and contributes to an increase in teenage anxiety, depression, and suicide.” The legislative background highlights a 2015 study published by the London School of Economics which found tests scores improved significantly when schools banned mobile phone use. In September 2018, France implemented a nationwide ban on smartphones in elementary and middle schools as a method to “promote pupil achievement and healthy social development.” AB 272 analyses also cite “iGen” whose research found that suicide rates increase in teenagers who spend three or more hours per day on electronic devices.

Overuse of technology is a concern for parents and educators alike. In a survey of 400 parents, only 1% expressed “no concerns” about their child’s use of technology. A 2016 study found that 78% of teenagers check their devices at least hourly. Further, 72% of teenagers felt the need to respond immediately to texts, social network notifications, and other notifications. The American Academy of Pediatrics refers to technology addiction as a functional impairment when media use becomes so heavy that the content is influencing a child’s behavior.

AB 272, intended to curb the use of a student’s personal technology during the school day, was read for the first time on January 24 and could reach a committee hearing as soon as April 10, 2019.

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