As any teacher will tell you, it can be difficult — very difficult — to keep a teenager from her cellphone.
But a growing number of schools are swiping away the social media distractions. And more should do the same.
Starting this fall, as the Globe’s Adria Watson recently reported, Springfield Central High School students will be required to shut down their phones when they walk through the front door and store them in magnetic pouches that only teachers and administrators can open at the end of the day.
The pilot program piggybacks on a similar effort at nearby Chicopee High School. And the Greenfield Public School Committee voted last week to support a cellphone lock-up at its middle and high schools, leaving the ultimate decision to the superintendent.
In Boston, the state’s largest district, the decision is left to individual schools. But a districtwide policy mandating the pouches would be a better approach.
There is plenty of research, going back decades now, on how cellphones divide our attention.
We know that using a device while behind the wheel can slow reaction times. Studies have shown that phones can reduce academic achievement, too. And no buzz or ping is required. The mere presence of a phone, face down on a desk, can disrupt concentration — the urge to scroll constantly tugging at the psyche.
This is an especially good moment to ban phones in schools.
“Our students, for a period of about a year and a half, weren’t really allowed to see their friends and really the only way of communicating with them was through social media, phones, and texting,” Springfield Central principal Thaddeus Tokarz told the Globe’s Watson. “So when they came back to school, we noticed that there was a much greater dependency on their phones, and it was taking away from their learning and becoming a distraction.”
That kind of harm falls heaviest on the students who are struggling the most academically. The further they fall behind, the harder it is to catch up.
Some students say that locking up their phones will prevent them from contacting their parents in an emergency. But they can always call from the office. And administrators can unseal the devices during the day if circumstances warrant.
Another argument for students holding onto their phones is that a 2022 education ought to incorporate the latest technology. But a phone isn’t required for online research or computer-assisted learning. Laptops can do the trick. And ensuring access to laptops should be the priority.
Chicopee High piloted its cellphone pouch program last year and teachers noticed immediate effects. One math teacher told MassLive that quiz and test scores shot up. A history teacher said students were participating more in class and doing better group work. And the cafeteria grew louder because students were talking to each other more.
There were kinks to work out. The school needed more clocks and calculators since students could no longer use their phones to tell time or crunch numbers.
But that’s a small price to pay for a more engaged student body.
In the classroom, attention matters. Schools should do what they can to direct it to what matters most.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.