Why Kids Do Better in School When Cell Phones Are Banned

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But you can still find lots of arguments in favor of letting kids keep their cell phones in class.

Some people cite the danger kids face today, thinking back on the horrors of Columbine or Sandy Hook. And there are schools in Maryland that encourage students to use their phones during class to look up words and concepts, saying it’s faster than flipping through textbooks.

New York City recently lifted its longtime ban on cell phones. Students in schools with metal detectors were having to pay outside vendors to store their phones, so allowing the phones back in was an effort to reduce the resulting economic inequality. It has been left up to each school to determine whether or not the phones are allowed in the classroom vs. in the building, which is yet another enforcement and resource issue.

This might help them make a decision: a study released this week by the London School of Economics reveals that keeping cell phones out of the classroom increased student test scores, having particular impact on low-achieving and at-risk students. High achievers weren’t particularly affected one way or the other by the bans or the lack of them, and oddly, 14-year-olds were also an unaffected group. But the results were clear for everybody else.

While the benefits seem obvious, the lines aren’t so easily drawn when it comes to the use of technology in the classroom. Some argue that letting kids use their cell phones in class saves schools money, since they don’t have to buy technology for students who clearly already have it. Teachers might be willing to allow students to use cell phones to look things up, but once they’re in the room, controlling the texting, game playing, and social media posting doesn’t seem like the best use of a teacher’s time.

As for parents being able to contact their kids, it comes down to each school’s official policy and what exactly it means to ban phones. If kids can keep their phones in their lockers, or keep them turned off during the day, they can still communicate with their parents before and after school, especially helpful when they’re going to school on their own. During the day, parents can just call the school directly when they need to reach their children, a system that has been in place pretty much everywhere for years. (Yes, there was a time before cell phones, and our parents could still find us during the school day.)

But in the classroom is a different story, and that’s why school policies will need to find a way to deal with the constant influx of new technology. I’m glad my middle schooler is allowed to carry his phone to school and back, and just as glad he can’t bring it into his classroom, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work the same way for every school in the country.

Logistics aside, Researchers Richard Murphy and Louis-Philippe Beland say. “We found the impact of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days.” It’s pretty hard to argue with results like that.

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