Cell Phones in American High Schools
With an increase of over 6,350% between 1990 and 2008, cell phone use in the U.S. has obviously skyrocketed. Today, over 254 million Americans are part of this pop culture phenomenon, and high school students are frequent users.
"Data from 2004 indicates that 58% of 6-12 th graders have a cell phone and 68% regularly bring them to school." These multifunctional phones are popular with young people because they offer instantaneous connections to friends as well as the ability to take pictures, access the Internet, watch video clips and send/receive text messages. (Features vary by model and subscription service levels.)
Since cell phones saturate our society, should they also permeate our schools? Should we regulate their use?
In this research, 112 high school principals from throughout the country responded to a structured questionnaire. Results offer a snapshot of current practices.
Most schools (84%) have adopted a written cell phone policy. Generally, they either completely ban or conditionally permit cell phone use by students. Violations result in disciplinary actions ranging from a mild reprimand to confiscation.
But do students have a right, legally or constitutionally, to carry their cell phones with them in school? No. Is there a rational and measurable educational benefit to student cell phone use in school? No. Do the potential negatives (disrupting others, taking embarrassing pictures, cheating on tests, inappropriate text messaging) clearly outweigh the benefits? Yes. Ironically, however, 24% of schools permit cell phone use by students.
Questions about teacher cell phone use were also asked. Surprisingly, one-third of principals agreed that "cell phone use by teachers adversely affects the sustained focus of teachers on the classroom/students". Furthermore, 22% believe "direct instructional time is lost due to cell phone use by teachers."
Although these negative perceptions are alarming, the research fails to identify the scope of the problem. Are all teachers, some teachers or a few teachers abusing the privilege? Lumping all teachers together does little more than proclaim and confirm an administrator's lack of leadership. Addressing each situation on a case by case basis is best practice.
In reality, few schools prohibit cell phone use by teachers according to this research. Enlightened administrators understand the limits of their authority when dealing with adults as well as the political ramifications. And many (73%) cite improved school safety when teachers have cell phones.
Exploiting cell phones in selected instances has merit. Equipping school bus drivers, teachers on field trips and school security personnel, are commendable examples.
As with all technologies, capitalizing on the benefits while simultaneously minimizing or eliminating negative effects, will enhance our educational environments.
Obringer, S.J. & Coffey. (2007, Winter) Cell phones in American high schools: A national survey. The Journal of Technology Studies. 33,(1),41-47.
By Dr. David Freitas and Dr. Janet Buckenmeyer