As cellphones become a universal accessory among students, policymaking about their use in schools is quickly transitioning from the district to the state level. According to the Des Moines Register, 16 states now have laws restricting the use of cellphones and other devices in school. Iowa state Rep. Deborah Berry hopes to add her own state to the list of those with legal restrictions, citing concerns that the phones are both a distraction and a safety risk. “I’ve seen in my district where they’re organizing fights” through text messages, she said recently. “It’s a serious issue.”
In other parts of the country, cellphone technology is being used as a teaching aide. A middle school in Keller, Texas, started a controversial pilot program replacing laptops with cheaper and more portable Verizon smartphones. In a recent Education Week article, Andrew Trotter describes some of the innovative ways teachers are using mobile technology in class, including to track student responses, record podcasts, and send assignment notices. AFT spokeswoman Janet Bass has spoken out against the use of cellphones in the classroom, saying companies such as Verizon are pushing them as a way to make money off schools.
However, the cellphone issue is much more nuanced than a good/bad debate lets on. One student in Texas recorded her teacher’s angry outburst—egregious expletives and all—through her cellphone, which eventually led the teacher to step down from his position. Was the student justified in her disregard for school cellphone restrictions if it prevented future verbal assaults? Or does this situation highlight the potential for cellphones to be used to intimidate or embarrass teachers? (Teachermagazine.org has a rousing discussion on this topic here.) In any case, it seems clear that this multifaceted policy debate will only be further complicated as cellphone and smartphone technologies advance.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.