Use a cell phone, pay a fine

In some Texas districts, teachers can confiscate cell phones and charge students $15 to get their phones back. Cell phone fines have netted $100,948 for Klein Independent School District, which has been charging the $15 fee for two years. The money has paid for art supplies, free P.E. uniforms, pizza parties to reward students and other enrichment activities.

Cell phones can be a learning tool, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He wants schools and colleges to deliver course content to phones, reports eSchool News.

“Kids are on their cell phones the 14 hours a day they are not in school,” Duncan said in a recent interview with eCampus News . . . With teenagers and young adults using cell phones constantly, Duncan said, technology officials should find ways to send homework, video lectures, and other classroom material so students can study wherever they are.

Of course, students might use phones less if it meant listening to lectures.

At some colleges, students are downloading course material on their cell phones, avoiding the high costs of buying textbooks. Ball State nursing students must buy an AT&T mobile device to “access lab books, medical dictionaries, diagnosis literature, and other resources throughout the school year.”  Undergrads pay about $250 for course materials that can be used throughout their studies. And they’ve got a lot less to carry from class to class.

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  1. Of course, in college, I doubt they have too many issues with students using cell phones to coordinate with other students inside or outside the building for fights. That is, in fact, one of the primary reasons they are banned in my district.

  2. Parent2 says:

    What a brilliant idea. At present, if a kid’s using his cell phone, you know he’s, ah, not engaged in academic pursuits. If there’s course content available on phones, maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t texting his girlfriend, but deeply involved in this week’s geometry lesson. (And maybe it’s snowing in Death Valley.)

  3. Going to e-texts is a great idea. I used to spend $500 per semester on books. It was the price of being an engineer and a lot of that cost was printing. If they could have given me the pdf on CD, I would have been just as happy a camper.

    The rest? Eh. Kids need to learn to live without the cell phones. At some point they’re going to need to solve their own problems instead of asking other people to do it (unless they go into management). Best to build those habits now.

  4. Tracy W says:

    Cell phones can be a learning tool, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

    Out of curiousity, can anyone think of anything that could not possibly, in any way, be a learning tool?

  5. Mark G. says:

    Okay, so we can text our secondary students their homework or give them access to e-texts. I’m all for that. But, not during the class period. I’ve got plenty of other learning tools I want them using during the class period.

  6. wahoofive says:

    100,948 isn’t divisible by 15. Think they gave a discount for cash? Or a bulk rate for repeat offenders, or gaggles of teens whose phones were all confiscated at once? Or maybe they need to get a calculator app.

    Oh, and it does snow in Death Valley:

  7. I don’t fight the cell phone issue. My students are allowed to use them IN my classroom when I am not giving instructions. Most students will ask if they can accept a cell phone call (it’s most often from a parent). Most of my students, as poor as they are, have the fancy 3G phones with all the gizmos so they don’t use them for calling as much as listening to music, texting, checking sites online, and playing games.

    The kids are good about using their phones once they know they don’t have to be sneaky about it and most don’t even take them out of their backpacks during class, knowing that if they do ring, they can get the call or text. Much of the work my students do is creative so if they want to listen to music, they can as it helps their creativity.

    Also, I try to gear my classroom much like a work site and I tell the students that there are places for cell phones and other times they must be turned off and put away.

  8. Ragnarok says:

    “Out of curiousity, can anyone think of anything that could not possibly, in any way, be a learning tool?”

    Possibly a union member? 🙂

  9. Get some “clicker” apps on those phones and keep them busy doing something useful.

  10. Brilliant idea! And then use the fines for a special fund to fire ineffective teachers and administrators. Once students recognize the inefficiencies in the current system, they’ll demand the AFT Toledo Plan or some other peer review plan that allows for the efficient termination of ineffective teachers, so their fines will really be used well.

    Many times I’ve had my students working well, then I see eyes move and sureptious (sp?) movements towards pockets all over the room. Then at once, classrooms all over the building are emptied as students rush to join fights. Then a few minutes later, moms arrive at schools and start beating on their childrens’ rivals.

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    “Then a few minutes later, moms arrive at schools and start beating on their childrens’ rivals.”

    Which just goes to show that it is not only possible to communicate with parents, but also to get them in the school building. 🙂

  12. dkzody,

    The problem with you allowing your students to use their cell phones in your class as long as they do not disrupt your class is that they often are texting kids in other teachers’ classrooms, thus leading to disruptions there. Also, taking a phone call during class is disruptive to other kids in the classroom, especially those who struggle with focusing issues already (ADD types and so on). However, I do agree with your music position. I have no problem with students listening to their mp3 players while they are working in class, but if it gets too loud I tell them to turn it down.

  13. Margo/mom,

    Twice I came upon my own students just after they were beaten by a mother on the school grounds and their faces were so swollen that I didn’t even recognize them. Twice I’ve had students with severe medical conditions so they continually passed out, seeming to not be breathing, and neither time were the administrators or I able to get the girls to medical care. Two other times a mom and I went round and round, they claiming that their children were good students and would not sleep in class unless I was boring and me trying to explain that I suspected a medical problem. One of the mothers came back crying in relief when the condition was diagnosed and treated. The other student died during sleep the day after I got a promise that my student we see a docter.

    No, I’m not making a blanket indictment of moms or absent fathers. But in urban schools, every day we see extreme tragedies and it makes no sense to ignore reality. And like I’ve said before, we in our school have to ask whether one or more of our students would be alive today if we had taken control and in addition to banning cell phones if we had enforced of schools rules keeping violence away.

  14. Mark Roulo says:

    Twice I’ve had students with severe medical conditions so they continually passed out, seeming to not be breathing, and neither time were the administrators or I able to get the girls to medical care.

    Do you mean that you (plural) couldn’t dial 911? Or that the 911 call didn’t result in a dispatch? Or that the children’s parents refused to take the children to see a doctor?

    -Mark Roulo

  15. When dealing with issues teachers follow the advice of the nurses, counselors, and administrators. Often, once the child is stabilzed we try repeatedly to get the parent to bring the child to the doctor. Often, after IEPs or other group meetings we discuss ethics and responsibility of calling DHS. I express my opinions and, to the best of my memory, I’ve always supported the group judgments. (I can think of one time when we were wrong and a child died.)

    That’s why so many educators reject black and white, simplistic ideologies. To be an urban educator is to make a huge number of crucial decisions and never knowing what was right.

    But to get back to cell phones and the mayhem they can encourage,I’m reminded of an incident that makes you wonder. I was alone , after leading a student who had been pepper sprayed, while the rest of the teachers were in the middle of the brawl. Several mothers took the role of generals. After being summoned by cell phones, they ordered their families into battles. As I’m trying to reason with them, a riot unit appears. All were bigger than my 240 lbs, wore armor and hoods. They took one glance and pulled out tasers.

    Whose world was crazy? I hadn’t thought that the brawl was that a-typical, but were my teachers assumptions equally wierd?

    I’ve got no doubt that cell phones could be beneficial in orderly environments. Our first job should be the protection of our kids’ safety.

  16. Margo/Mom says:


    I don’t want to get into a battle of who has had the worst urban experiences, however, I would point out to you that parents who come to school and get into fights on their kid’s behalf are in fact motivated by preserving their child’s safety. Not saying their methods are at all appropriate. But, as an urban parent myself, as well as a long time community worker in an urban area, I cannot recall a situation that was ever improved by trying to cut off communication. I would say that the level of trust between many parents and the school system is very low and typically schools do little to nothing to make things better.

    It’s very tiresome when schools, as an entity, as an institution, as a generalization, just assume that parents in an urban area function at the level of knuckle-dragging street fighters not worthy of any of the normal kinds of consideration that go into relationship building. I tend to get personally insulted about this, but more important, I find it to be highly insulting to many of the people who I have depended on for support and sustainance.

    Nothing begins with a riot.

    If you have never tried it, imagine sending your child every day to the care of adults who decline to walk the streets in your neighborhood because they disdain the element that lives there. Imagine being expected to place your trust in someone who, before they have even met you, believes that you must be incompetent as a parent because your child has problems in school. I recall the day that my son’s middle school had a lock-down as school was getting out. It wasn’t the school who let me know. It was another parent who happened to be there and rescued my son from the chaos, took him to her home, and called me at work to let me know that he was upset. It was 24 hours before I could even speak to anyone employed by the district to get the “official” version of the story, which was that “some adults from the community were acting like children.” Beyond that, there was nothing to talk about because the children of the adults were to be suspended until the end of the year and then they would be in high school. Problem solved. No one was upset. No need for concerned parents to be called together to see what might be helpful.

  17. Margo/Mom,

    We’re going to continue to go round and round on this because we both care so deeply.

    You are right that nothing starts with a riot and you can cite urban experiences where schools made things worse. I can cite anecdotes where kids brought the conflict to school at 7:20 Monday morning.

    I will argue that we teachers didn’t start this with NCLB and attacks on teachers and unions, and you’ll argue …

    It will be hard for me to know when I’ll write something that sets you off (at least at first). It will be hard for you to know when you’ll write something that sets me off.

    This is all to the good if the debate/discussion doesn’t devolve. All Im saying is that we must look at urban schools as they really are if we are going to make things better.

    All you are saying … will be said in future comments.

  18. Parent2 says:

    wahoofive, you’re right–see, I’m not too old to learn, so I’ll adjust my metaphor. Maybe it snows inside a blast furnace.

    “Undergrads pay about $250 for course materials that can be used throughout their studies.”

    You surely don’t think the pricing will stay that low? Textbooks are expensive because they serve a captive audience. Ball State University is now a test site for the use of digital textbooks. It is not in the interest of those who are developing a future market to scare off customers at this point in the business cycle.

    No publisher is interested in going out of business. Every business wants to increase their income stream. Digital textbooks (I presume) would be locked to their purchasers. You can’t sell last year’s textbooks to this year’s students–even when it’s the text to introductory art history–and you will never take another class in that discipline in your life. Digital texts destroy the second-hand market.

    Now, I’d be in favor of the idea if a national committee would (could) set a national curriculum, with solid texts purchased from the copyright holders. No editing to satisfy local pressure groups. No income stream for businessmen. No pages cluttered with extraneous matters. (And it will snow in a blast furnace first.)

    Reading text on a cell phone is much harder than reading on a standard textbook page. The Kindle’s a fine device, but it’s black and white. And you know, I’m very leery of any government program which will eventually aim to supply students with cellphones at public expense.

  19. Of course, in college, I doubt they have too many issues with students using cell phones to coordinate with other students inside or outside the building for fights.

    No, instead, students use them to cheat on exams — which is why if we catch a student in an exam administration who did not surrender his cell phone upon entering, we expel them from the room and fail him on the exam.

    As for this “idea,” I used to work with somebody who had a similar idea about tardiness. If a student came in after she began class, she fined him. This lasted until it got out, that is, one semester, when the Dean appropriately told her to stop or forget about ever getting tenure. Course, it didn’t help that she came to class drunk dressed like a whore and talked incessantly about her sexual exploits in class. Then, that’s no less ethical than the fine.

  20. Exactly what gives the schools the right to confiscate students private property? Then make them pay ransom to get it back?