Not So Smart?

Assemblyman Introduces Bill Banning Cell Phones In Classrooms

Assemblyman Keith Brown, R-Commack, speaks on the Assembly floor during a recent floor debate.

Smart phones may not be helping make students smarter in the classroom.

Assemblyman Keith Brown, R-Commack, has introduced legislation (A.9687) that would prohibit students from having their cell phones during classroom instruction time. A companion bill has yet to be introduced in the state Senate.

“Research appears to overwhelmingly support the notion that students who spend more time on their phones do worse in school, distract other students around them, and feel worse about their life,” Brown said in his legislative justification. “This bill will help to eliminate this phone usage problem by requiring that students be prohibited from possessing cellphones during classroom instruction. This in turn will help alleviate the learning difficulties faced by students due to cell phone usage during the school day.”

Brown’s bill comes at a time when several states are debating similar bills banning cell phones in and suggesting new ways to curb access to the devices. The latest state intervention came in Utah, where Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, in January urged all school districts and the state Board of Education to remove cellphones from classrooms. He cited studies that show learning improves, distractions are decreased and students are more likely to talk to each other if phones are taken away.

“We just need a space for six or seven hours a day where kids are not tethered to these devices,” Cox told reporters this month. He said his initiative, which is not binding, is part of a legislative push to protect kids in Utah from the harms of social media.

A ninth grader places her cellphone in to a phone holder as she enters class at Delta High School, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. AP file photo

Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down on phones in school. A law that took effect in July requires all Florida public schools to ban student cellphone use during class time and block access to social media on district Wi-Fi. Some districts, including Orange County Public Schools, went further and banned phones the entire school day.

Oklahoma, Vermont and Kansas have also recently introduced what is becoming known as “phone-free schools” legislation.

And two U.S. senators — Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat — introduced legislation in December that would require a federal study on the effects of cellphone use in schools on students’ mental health and academic performance. Theirs is one of several bipartisan alliances calling for stiffer rules for social media companies and greater online safety for kids.

Brown cites a 2023 UNESCO report that raised questions about the use of smartphones in classrooms because they can disrupt classroom learning, expose students to cyberbullying and compromise students’ privacy. He said about 1 in 7 countries globally, such as the Netherlands and France, have banned the use of smartphones in school. The Program for International Student Assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in almost 80 countries tests 15-year-olds every three years in math, reading, and science. PISA scores reveal that students who spend less than one hour of “leisure” time on digital devices a day at school scored about 50 points higher in math than students whose usage is greater than five hours a day. This gap held even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors. For comparison, a 50-point decline in math scores is about four times larger than America’s pandemic-era learning loss in that subject, Brown said in his legislative memo.

A study last year from Common Sense Media found that 97% of kids use their phones during school hours, and that kids say school cellphone policies vary — often from one classroom to another — and aren’t always enforced.

For a school cellphone ban to work, educators and experts say the school administration must be the one to enforce it and not leave that task to teachers. The Phone-Free Schools Movement, an advocacy group formed last year by concerned mothers, says policies that allow students to keep phones in their backpacks, as many schools do, are ineffective.

“Phones seem to create a general distraction throughout school, even for students who aren’t always looking at them,” Brown wrote. “Andreas Schleicher, the director of the PISA survey, wrote that students who reported feeling

distracted by their classmates’ digital habits scored lower in math. Nearly half of students across the OECD said that they felt “nervous” or “anxious” when they didn’t have their digital devices near them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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