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EDITORIAL: CCSD follows the evidence, bans phones in class

Brenda Larsen-Mitchell just made a great decision. Now, she’ll need the courage to enforce it.

The interim superintendent of the Clark County School District recently announced that middle schools and high schools will ban phones during class. Students will place devices in “nonlocking, signal-blocking pouches,” she said during a news conference on summer safety. The point is “they won’t have access to them while they’re learning.” She added, “This will eliminate many of the distractions that are caused by cellphones.”

That’s an understatement. Companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars create apps that gobble up the attention of users. The dings of notifications and texts are constant reminders that there are things more immediately gratifying than learning about the Roman Empire. Students need a clear policy that helps focus their attention on the classroom rather than on their devices.

Helicopter parents may object, but such opposition is counterproductive and misguided. There is a wealth of research that backs up commonsense controls on cellphones in classrooms. Some of the most recent comes from Sara Abrahamsson with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. There is no national cellphone policy in that country. Instead, individual campuses make different decisions. This allowed her to compare outcomes between middle schools that allowed or banned phones.

She found banning smartphones markedly increased girls’ grade-point averages and mathematics test scores. “On average, I find that the effect of banning smartphones from the classroom is larger than reducing the class size by one student, highlighting the distracting effect smartphones have on learning,” she wrote.

Additionally, girls in schools that banned smartphones for at least two years had an 8 percent to 14 percent point increase “in the probability of attending an academic high school track relative to the pre-ban years.”

Removing cellphones from classrooms also improved mental health. The number of “consultations for psychological symptoms and diseases at specialist care” dropped by almost 60 percent. That’s staggering. If you want your children to feel better about themselves, restrict their cellphone use. Notably, girls from low-income families experienced the largest benefits.

The benefits were larger for girls than for boys. Ms. Abrahamsson suggests that may be because girls use their phones and social media more than boys do. Even so, phone bans decreased incidents of bullying for both sexes.

Teachers have been grappling with the deleterious consequences of phones in classrooms for years. The distractions are not conducive to a productive learning environment. It will now be up to Clark County administrators to support teachers and principals when they enforce this new policy.

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