Get Schooled

Your source to discuss and learn about education in Georgia and the nation and share opinions and news with Maureen Downey

I sympathize with teacher who resorted to cell phone jammer. Do you?

Having spent the week with five teens in the mountains of New Hampshire, I sympathize with the Florida  teacher who resorted to a cellphone jammer to block students’ phones in class so they would pay attention.

The jammer got high school teacher Dean Liptak suspended without pay for five days from Fivay High School in Pasco County. It's illegal to use a jammer as the teacher learned after Verizon paid a visit to the school.

The jammer blocked communication to the cell tower on the Fivay High campus, and the service provider and the school were both concerned about safety issues. Liptak bought the jammer online and thought it was legal to use.

According to WTSP-TV:

Liptak tells the district he only thought the cell phone jammer would impact his classroom, and get his students to put down their phones and pay attention.

"Verizon had come to the school saying someone had a jamming device, because the cell phone service was being interrupted in the area," says Pasco County School District Spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.

Cobbe says Liptak's jamming device blocked communication to the cell tower on the Fivay High campus. "The consequences could have been dire, if he was jamming the signal so 911 calls can be made. It would affect an emergency in the school," says Cobbe.

Schools contend they must allow students to bring cell phones to class because parents believe phones are necessary and promote safety.

But a new study out of Great Britain says phones in classrooms undercut learning, especially among lower achieving students.

Released in May, the study states:

There are debates in many countries as to how schools should address the issue of mobile phones. Some advocate for a complete ban while others promote the use of mobile phones as a teaching tool in classrooms. This debate has most recently been seen with the Mayor of New York removing a 10-year ban of phones on school premises in March 2015, stating that abolition has the potential to reduce inequality (Sandoval et al, 2015).2 Despite the extensive use of mobile phones by students and the heated debate over how to treat them, the impact of mobile phones on high school student performance has not yet been academically studied. In this paper, we estimate the effect of schools banning mobile phones on student test scores.

We find that following a ban on phone use, student test scores improve by 6.41% of a standard deviation. Our results indicate that there are no significant gains in student performance if a ban is not widely complied with. Furthermore, this effect is driven by the most disadvantaged and underachieving pupils. Students in the lowest quartile of prior achievement gain 14.23% of a standard deviation, whilst, students in the top quartile are neither positively nor negatively affected by a phone ban. The results suggest that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones, while high achievers can focus in the classroom regardless of the mobile phone policy. Schools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap by prohibiting mobile phone use in schools, and so by allowing phones in schools, New York may unintentionally increase the inequalities of outcomes. We include several robustness checks such as an event study, placebo bans, test for changes in student intake and range of alternative outcome measures.

Schools that restrict access to mobile phones subsequently experience an improvement in test scores. However, these findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured.

What are the options for teachers fed up with the distraction of cell phones?

Does anyone know of a school cell phone policy that works for teachers, parents and students?


Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.