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Get Over Your Hang-up

For the moment, it’s one of the most contentious issues in American schools, even at the elementary level. Should students be allowed to carry cell phones during the school day? As the chart below shows, workable policies are still evolving. But Luddites be warned: As cell phone functionality extends beyond just calls to web browsing, calendars, and other productivity tools, forward-thinking educators will not only expect but encourage these devices in the classroom.

By Karen Greenwood Henke | August , 2006

What It Means: Students are not allowed to bring cell phones to school at any time. The ban may extend to school activities such as team practices and after-school events. Most middle schools and elementary schools ban cell phones but should expect more students to come to school with them.

Arguments For Policy: Beyond the usual distractions, phone use may accelerate rumors in emergencies. It’s hard for teachers to manage small, silent phones. Students can use them to cheat. Phones also trip up metal detectors.

Arguments Against Policy: Students want  to communicate with parents. Many children commute to and from school alone. Parents want to know students are OK in case of emergencies.

Schools Using Policy: Philadelphia, New York City, Detroit

What They Say About It: “In most true emergencies, situations are unfolding rapidly, and adults are trying to grasp what’s happening. Kids should not be making the call because they are not supposed to be managing the emergency.”
—Kenneth S. Trump, president,
National School Safety and Security Services 


What It Means: Many districts have pushed the decision down to schools. The most common high school policy permits student use of cell phones outside the instructional day and requires them to be turned off and put away during the day.

Arguments For Policy: Realistic middle ground for phone use in school. Minimizes disruptions during class while giving students reasonable access.

Arguments Against Policy: Students will ignore the policy—cheat on tests, take inappropriate pictures of others, silently text-message during class, etc.

Schools Using Policy: Rock Island High School, Illinois
Manalapan-Englishtown (NJ)        
Regional Schoolsw Plano (TX) Independent School District
Waller (TX) Independent School District

What They Say About It: Our students walk, parents drive them, or they take public transportation. We have lots of kids involved in after-school activities. Now we don’t have to have [pay] phones for kids to use to call for rides.”
—Terrence Martin, principal,
Rock Island High School



What It Means: We were hard pressed to find  any schools encouraging use of cell phones during instruction, although there are plenty that allow their students to carry them. But the coming functionality and power of computing in these small devices suggests that educational uses may be on the horizon for innovative educators.

Arguments For Policy: Cell phones with productivity tools will become pocket-size computers. Plus, students are going to use them anyway.

Arguments Against Policy: See “Arguments For Policy” for Complete Ban.

Schools Using Policy: Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston

What They Say About It: “The quantity and capacity of these devices is evolving and growing. Trying to stop use will become virtually impossible. Instead of trying to fight it, start thinking about how do you use it.”
—Steven Glyer, director, educational technology, Newport-Mesa (CA)Unified School District



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