Texas should be the second state to ban phones in schools

Texas should be the second state to ban phones in schools

Texas should be the second state to ban phones in schools

(Michael Hogue)

Wait, Gavin Newsom — California governor, Democratic presidential candidate-in-waiting, formidable GOP rival — got ahead of Texas on protecting children and academic outcomes?

You heard me right. Following a social media label from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Newsom announced his intention to push for a statewide ban on phones in classrooms. And he was right to do so. As the nation’s second-largest state and the largest Republican state, we would be right to do so here, too.

Newsom is getting his fair share of criticism, especially from parents. But if there’s anyone who’s experienced at taking a beating in stride, it’s our politicians. Being the leader on the issue takes pressure off elementary school principals and high school teachers so they can get back to teaching and not swatting iPhones in the classroom like they’re flies. It also takes pressure off the hypothetical Jimmy, who feels left out as the only fourth grader in his school without a cellphone and a smartwatch.

I recently had the privilege of participating in a meeting of parents and school administrators discussing what to do about technology on campuses. I came away with two important conclusions.

First of all, when you think you’re alone in something, you probably aren’t. It was inspiring to see people from different parts of the community united for a common cause.

Second, grassroots shifting is hard work. And I say this as someone who lacks the disposition of a community organizer. Grassroots organizing means no budget and no marketing department. At the meeting, I couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have some air cover?”

That’s what politicians call leadership that frees up the grassroots to do what they need to do. If politicians were willing to host the debate on phones in school and take heat from big tech, then educators on the ground could get back into the trenches of the classroom, where they do their best work. As it stands, parents and teachers who see the need for reform are left waving the Surgeon General’s warning and their worn-out copies of the Education Act. The anxious generation by Jonathan Haidt.

Let’s talk about what air coverage might look like at different levels. We’ll start with Washington and move closer to home.

It has long been a conservative dream, and the subject of many conservative think tank articles, for the Department of Education to reduce its role primarily to being a repository of best practices for education. Given the decade of research on technology in classrooms, the Department of Education could provide easily accessible information for interested parents, school administrators, and teachers — things like fact sheets and the latest surveys and research on technology. That would be better than every small school in the country writing and distributing its own resources when they finally decide enough is enough.

For those who believe the federal government has a role to play in funding — and I do — perhaps the federal government could purchase a lockable bag for each student, the $30 price tag of which is a barrier in some schools.

Consider the $82 billion requested in the Department of Education’s 2025 budget. With 50 million public school students across the country, at $30 a pop (and come on, it’s the federal government, so let’s cut the budget to $10), that’s $500 million out of $82 billion, less than 1% of the budget.

Put another way, each year of public education costs about $10,000 per student. Compare that to a $30 investment that could profoundly change students’ academic, social, and behavioral outcomes.

At the state level, Texas should ban devices on school campuses. It’s literally free, but they don’t have to be allowed. That’s what France does. That’s what several major private schools here in Dallas do. There are no five-dollar penalties on a sliding scale. The first offense is the parent taking the device away. The next offense, it’s taken away forever.

Newsom is getting some criticism. Most of it, as I understand it, is from parents worried about what to do with their children in the event of an emergency, specifically a school shooting.

This is a very sad commentary on our situation as parents. As a mother, I understand the fear. It eats away at me too, and it’s absolutely horrible. But since that’s really the emergency we’re talking about when it comes to kids having smartphones, we should take another minute to talk about it.

Schools should have clear emergency protocols, including communication with parents by teachers and the district. There should be a phone in every classroom for the teacher, preloaded with all the parents’ numbers. But in a true emergency, classrooms will be locked down and lockers or even hallway lockers will not be accessible. It seems as if a real, deep, persistent anxiety is being assuaged by something indirectly related.

Short of the worst, some parents seem to simply want to stay in touch with their children throughout the day or track them with GPS devices even when they are at school. When you wonder how children became addicted, you only have to look at the apple tree.

And in the meantime, look west. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, presidential candidate-in-waiting and formidable Democratic rival, is in many ways Newsom’s mirror image. But on this particular issue, there need be no difference between them.

It’s time for Texas to ban phones in schools.

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