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EDITORIAL: The action schools should take to stop distraction

Updated December 13, 2023 - 12:28 pm

The latest report on how poorly U.S. students are performing in math also includes an easy way to potentially improve classroom performance.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently released the latest Program for International Student Assessment.

It’s a standardized test given to students around the world, from 37 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It started in 2000 and tests students every three years, but COVID delayed the latest results by a year.

The United States’ math scores dropped to the lowest level ever recorded on this test. The number of top-performing students dropped by 1.4 percentage points.

The number of low-performing students increased by 8.1 percentage points. The United States now has the 10th-lowest math score among OECD member countries.

By now, the reason for the dramatic decline should be obvious.

“Across PISA-participating economies, at least half of students experienced COVID-related school closures for three months or more,” a report from OECD noted. “Systems that spared more students from longer school closures scored higher while their students enjoyed a greater sense of belonging at school.”

The good news is that another section of this depressing report offers a path forward. “Around 30 percent of students, on average across OECD countries, reported that, in most or every mathematics lesson, they get distracted using digital devices,” the report reads. Another 25 percent of students reported that “in most or every lesson, they become distracted by other students who are using digital devices” and that takes away from learning time.

This should be patently obvious to anyone who has ever used a smartphone or been on social media. Silicon Valley has spent billions making apps as addictive as possible. They make money by keeping people on their devices. Teachers don’t stand a chance.

That’s why Superintendent Jesus Jara should get phones out of classrooms. Students in the Clark County School District have experienced tremendous learning loss. Leaders need to implement policies to help them learn more in the classroom.

Late last month, The Washington Post agreed, calling for parents to help schools ban smartphones. The devices “can fuel cyberbullying and stifle meaningful in-person interaction.”

“In the face of today’s evidence, one could plausibly argue that children shouldn’t have access to smartphones at all,” a Post editorial noted. “But at least keeping the devices out of schools? It’s an idea whose time has come.”

It has. Mr. Jara should remove smartphones from classrooms.

This commentary initially appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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