EDITORIAL: A disruptive learning environment

Usually, it wouldn’t be prudent to turn to socialist-leaning France for policy guidance. But the proud European nation may be on to something when it comes to kids and electronic devices.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that French officials have banned cellphones from many schools. A new law prohibits students up to age 15 from using smartphones anywhere on campus, with a few exceptions.

France’s education minister, Jean-Michael Blanquer, said the move “is intended to remove distractions during class and to encourage children to read a book or play outside during recreation,” the Journal reported Tuesday.

“We’re not seeking to reject technological progress — that would be absurd — but rather to master it, to make sure man is the master of the machine,” Mr. Blanquer said.

The law is eminently sensible. Yes, smartphones — offering a wealth of information available in seconds — can be an asset to the educational process when used for that purpose. But they also serve as a significant impediment.

Clark County opened the 2018-19 school year this week. Talk to teachers — particular those in the upper grades — and most will tell you that ubiquitous student cellphone use presents an obstacle to classroom instruction and, in turn, to learning. Kids buried in their phones or tuned out via earbuds during classroom lessons will have more difficulty absorbing the material and succeeding. This can create a disruption that affects others in the class. The devices can also easily facilitate cheating.

Yet there is little most Clark County teachers can do about the problem. And it is a problem.

“Researchers at the London School of Economics found standardized test scores for 16-year-olds at 91 U.K. schools measured between 2001 and 2011 rose when they instituted bans on mobile phones,” the Journal reports. The results were greatest when the bans were strictly enforced.

Under the new law, the French government will recommend that schools provide lockers where students must put their phones while on the grounds. Campus officials will have the option of allowing kids to keep the devices in their backpacks. In either case, the Journal reports, “the law empowers teachers, administrators and other staff to confiscate phones.”

Some parents have raised concerns that the policy will make it more difficult for them to contact their children. But so what? During an emergency, school officials are capable of delivering a message from parent to student.

Clark County’s new superintendent, Jesus Jara, and the School Board should take a look at the French approach. A district policy that recognizes the disruptive force of student electronic devices on the learning environment would be a step toward allowing teachers to reclaim their classrooms — and perhaps even to boosting stagnant test scores.

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