Classroom Technology

Principals on Student Screen Time: 7 Takeaways From Education Week’s Exclusive Survey

By Benjamin Herold — May 11, 2018 4 min read
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When you administer a survey, it’s hard to get 95 percent of people to agree to anything.

But that’s what happened last month when the Education Week Research Center surveyed more than 500 principals and other school leaders from across the country. Nearly all of the respondents said they worry that students spend too much time on devices when they’re not in school.


Technology Counts 2018 includes deep reporting on principals’ view of personalized learning, screen time, social media, and computer science.

School Leaders and Technology,” published by the Education Week Research Center, has the complete survey results.

“I’m shocked a lot of times with parents that don’t check their kids’ phones, don’t regularly check their social media feed,” said Daniel Kelley, the president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, who also heads Rhode Island’s Smithfield High.

“This can’t all fall back on administrators and schools,” Kelley said, “Parents also need to monitor what their kids are doing online.”

That home-school tension was one of the big issues explored by my colleague Christina Samuels in her full report on the findings as part of our Technology Counts special report.

Here are 7 other takeaways from the survey data that you may have missed:

1. Principals are super worried about students’ screen time at home.

As Christina notes in her story, just 2 percent of principals surveyed said that students are spending “the right amount” of time in front of screens when they are not in school, and just 3 percent said students aren’t using screens enough at home.

“I’ve had to tell kindergarten parents to take the television out of their kids’ rooms,” Summerlyn Thompson, the principal of Johnson Elementary School in Charlottesville, Va., told her.

2. But screen time at school is a different story.

Nearly two-thirds of the school leaders surveyed said students spend “the right amount” of time on screens in school. The rest were just about evenly split between believing students spend too much time (17 percent) or too little (19 percent) time on screens.

“I don’t get the sense that schools are doing an exorbitant amount of screen time during the day,” said Kelley of NASSP. “But when they do have access, we have to make sure they’re not just checking YouTube.”

3. Principals say that tech companies and vendors are pressuring them to increase screen time...

Well over half the school leaders surveyed by Education Week said they feel strong (30 percent) or mild (28 percent) pressure from industry to increase screen time.

Here’s how that looks on the ground, per one of the principals that Christina interviewed.

“I haven’t bought playground equipment in a long time,” said Monti Hillis, the principal of Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary in McMinnville, Tenn. “I can buy a piece of playground equipment for $10,000. How many Chromebooks can that buy?”

4. ...but parents, teachers, and district leaders are not pressing them to boost screen time.

Just 2 percent of principals said they felt strong pressure from parents to increase screen time, compared to 18 percent who felt mild pressure from parents to limit screen time, and 64 percent who said they felt no pressure either way.

Nearly a quarter of principals said they felt strong (5 percent) or mild (18 percent) pressure to limit screen time, more than the combined percentage of principals who felt mild (18 percent) or strong (4 percent) pressure from teachers to increase screen time.

And a full 60 percent of principals said that when it comes to screen time, they didn’t feel any pressure either way from their district leaders.

5. Principals think research and standardized testing should be done on devices with screens.

Eighty-eight percent of school leaders prefer their students to use a device to conduct research, compared to 10 percent who prefer paper-and-pencil.

And when it comes to standardized testing, far more principals described a strong for devices (51 percent) than for paper-and-pencil (18 percent.)

That might be somewhat surprising, given continued findings that students tend to score lower on computerized versions of standardized exams.

6. But on everything else Education Week asked about, principals preferred the old-school method.

Learning new math concepts and skills? Fifty-six percent of principals preferred paper-and-pencil, compared to 19 percent who preferred devices.

Taking notes? Forty-five percent paper-and-pencil, 21 percent devices.

Improving reading? Thirty-five percent paper-and-pencil, 28 percent devices.

That kind of nuanced thinking highlights the approach favored by some experts, such as Lisa Guernsey, the director of the Learning Technologies Project for New America, a Washington think tank.

“It’s so important to think about technology as something more than just a monolithic word that means everything,” Guernsey told Samuels.

7. When it comes to screen time, there’s an interesting digital divide among principals.

At both higher- and lower-poverty schools, school leaders told Education Week that students are getting too much screen time at home.

But interestingly, principals at higher poverty schools (26 percent) were significantly more likely than their counterparts at lower-poverty schools (14 percent) to say that students were getting too little screen time in school.

Principal Hillis from Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary in Tennessee was among those who worried her students didn’t have enough access to technology.

“Really, our children are at a disadvantage,” she said.



Bobby Ray Memorial Elementary School Principal Monti Hillis said educators and policymakers should not assume all students and schools have regular access to technology in and outside of school.--Joon Powell

See also:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.