A new law signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom allows schools to determine ways to reduce or eliminate the use of cell phones in school.  The first of its kind in the nation, AB 272  (Muratsuchi 2019), authorizes schools, both public and charter, to adopt a policy to reduce or prohibit cell phone use when at school or under the supervision of school employees, except under certain circumstances such as emergencies, permission by teacher, a medical need or for individualized instruction.

Student Academics and Well Being Improve without Cell Phones

Cell phones have become ubiquitous both inside and outside of classrooms in America. Studies are confirming that they are distracting and hinder learning. The Pew research center revealed in a 2018 study that, “Fully 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly’”.

The London School of Economics published a paper, Technology, Distraction & Student Performance, in 2015.  They surveyed 91 schools in four English cities that banned cell phones, and found that student performance in high stakes exams significantly increased after the ban was in place. They noted that the most significant gains in pupil performance were made by the most disadvantaged and underachieving pupils. The study concluded that “schools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap by prohibiting mobile phone use in schools.” They underscored the need for strict and wide implementation of the cell phone ban in order to be successful.

Thornton et al (2014) in their article, The Mere Presence of a Cell Phone May be Distracting: Implications for Attention and Task Performance, clearly supported earlier research showing that even if the phone is off but visible it is a distracting influence. This has implications for both meaningful social interaction as well as school performance.

Wisconsin and San Mateo, California Cell Phone Bans are a Success

In 2018, many Wisconsin School Districts banned cell phones with only positive results. San Mateo in 2019 adopted a cell phone ban during school hours in order to improve students’ academic scores as well as their social well-being. The solution for San Mateo was to provide a small neoprene case for each student that has a toggle magnetic lock. The student keeps the pouch and phone in their possession until the end of school when they hit the unlocking device, located at the front of the classroom, which automatically opens the pouch. The school has been so happy with the pilot project that it has been adopted school wide. Teachers now spend less time monitoring cell phone use in the classroom and more time teaching. They also have found a definite increase in student engagement. An NBC news reporter interviewed a student about the program. She stated, “At first, I was skeptical. But now, I like it because it makes students socialize more amongst each other, and teachers say students are talking to each other more rather than being zoned out on their phones.”

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France Bans Smartphones in Schools to Reduce Distraction

French lawmakers in 2018  passed legislation banning students age 3 to 15 from bringing smartphones and tablets to school. If they have a cell phone they are required to be turned off.  Officials stated this is to reduce distractions from the phones, help prevent phone addiction, and safeguard the sanctity of the classroom.

China Bans Cell Phones in Schools to Protect Children’s Eye’s

Because of the growing evidence for the risk of eye damage from digital screens and concerns with myopia China has banned cell phones from classrooms. See China Bans Smart Phones in Schools . The Ministry of Education and the National Health Commission has banned the use of cell phones and tablets in classrooms in Shandong province and asked parents and teachers to:

  • Not rely on electronic devices for teaching and assignments and use written assignments
  • Limit children’s use of electronic screens not more than one hour a day and not exceed 15 minutes in a single session
  • Keep proper distance from eyes and screes
  • Have correct reading positions
  • Have sufficient backlighting

Colleges and Law Schools Banning Laptops

The 2014  Princeton and UCLA study, The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,  showed that handwritten note taking improved test performance as well as long term retention of  information. It is felt this is due to the ability of notetakers to process information and reframe it in their own words, enhancing learning.  The authors conclude, “The studies we report here show that laptop use can negatively affect performance on educational assessments, even—or perhaps especially—when the computer is used for its intended function of easier note taking. 

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New Maryland Law Asks, ‘How much screen time is too much for students?’

Maryland State passed a new law in 2018 that requires the Maryland State Department of Education and the Department of Health to determine best practices for screen use and for device use for schools.  HB 1110 — An Act Concerning Public Schools – Health And Safety Guidelines And Procedures – Digital Devices  was supported by experts in classroom learning.  Alex Molnar and Faith Boninger wrote,What a growing body of research does indicate, however, is that excessive computer use by children leads to several concrete negative health effects.  These include vision problems, disturbance in sleep patterns, social-emotional disturbance, and addiction to digital devices.”

News Articles

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Scientific Articles


  • Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse Is Making Our Kids Dumber. Joe Clement and Matt Miles. (2017)

Physicians for Safe Technology