Utah Gov. Spencer Cox wants to crack down on public school students’ cellphone use during class.

“I’ll be sending out a letter to every every principal, every school in the state, asking them to take more measures to prevent smartphones from being in kids’ hands during during class time,” Cox said during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly News Conference on Wednesday.

The governor said there is “overwhelming evidence” of learning loss that coincides with widespread use of cellphones.

“We talked about learning loss during COVID and it was severe. But if you if you go back and look at the data, learning loss in our country and all over the world started in about 2012, when these smartphones became ubiquitous,” he said.

Cox acknowledged “there are exceptions. Everybody likes to point out the one exception of the kid who has a medical issue and needs their phone. Great. I’m fine with that. I’m no problem with that whatsoever.”

But for the vast majority of students, “we know that things improve at least at least giving kids a break for six or seven hours a day when they’re in the classroom,” he said.

The Utah State Board of Education declined to comment.

According to Harvard University researcher Dylan Lukes, existing studies provide evidence that allowing phones in the classroom negatively impacts test scores and long-term learning retention.

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“In psychology, research on multitasking generally finds negative effects on learning and task completion and, more generally, research has shown that cellphones distract and negatively impact reaction times, performance, enjoyment of focal tasks and cognitive capacity,” he said.

As schools considered removing bans or enforcement of cell phone restrictions, they should also consider the “often overlooked dimensions of school culture that could play a role in educational productivity and student well-being,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about cellphones but I do think it’s key to engage in a discussion around the tradeoffs of having them in schools and classrooms. There might be some interesting ways to balance the tradeoffs of their distractions and their benefits — something like having magnetized pouches and allowing students to take out cellphones under special circumstances” such as a class activity or lunch, he said.

“Some schools are already experimenting with these alternatives and there are some prime opportunities in this space to evaluate impacts of these polices on educational outcomes, including school discipline and school culture,” Lukes said.

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