Monday, December 21, 2015

DeBlasio's Cell Phone Policy Threatens Community Business and Positive Educational Outcomes

*Bronx neighb mayhem out of control *Problems of cell phone use as a social justice issue 

Bill DeBlasio has placated parents' desire for their children to take cell phones to school. However, the new policy has several negative impacts on communities and on educational outcomes. All parties concerned with peaceful neighborhoods and positive educational outcomes should argue for the mayor and the New York City Department of Education to re-think the cellphone policy.

News outlets across the country, in the Los Angeles area ("Parents Concerned by Fist Fights Posted on Social Media"), to Georgia ("Social Media Poses Challenge for Schools as Student Fights Spread, Schools and the community dissect the troubling student fights that are gaining notoriety online, are reporting that school fights are being captured by students and are being shared on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram") are reporting youth mayhem that is fed by the wide availability of cell phones.

In the last two months, Bronx schools and neighborhoods are slipping into chaos. Unless DeBlasio steps in, these neighborhoods will slip further into a Clockwork Orange kind of disorder. First this happened in the Evander Childs campus. Yet, this is taking a worsening, escalating course in the Westchester Square area. And local authorities are seeing these fights as gang-related.

Just as the Bronx is experiencing a renaissance, cellphone-triggered chaos is jeopardizing that progress. Several news outlets are reporting that, as in other schools in the city (as had been reported to me by a school safety agent also), only weeks after DeBlasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina lifted the cellphone ban, students started to arrange fights, coordinated by using cellphones, within the school and by contacting individuals outside of the school. As reported this week and last week, city councilors in the Bronx are suspecting that students at the Lehman campus have started a routine of setting off fire alarms, then coordinating fights via cellphone. Additionally, students are documenting the fights with their cell phones, and then sending the fights viral, by social media sites.

These fights are now happening a few times a week, and students are extending the mayhem to commercial districts, such as Westchester Square. Merchants' shop windows are being broken. Stoked by the adrenaline of the disorder, students are harassing store owners with racial slurs. Some shopkeepers have said that if this continues they will be forced to close. The continuing mayhem hit the New York Post this weekend.

Will this change? Hardly likely. The major stakeholders, the mayor, the schools chancellor, the city teachers union president Michael Mulgrew are committed to a permissive cell phone policy. The absence of a popularly elected school board means that reversal of this policy will be quite slow.

The legacy of Michael Bloomberg's school policies are worsening matters. Bloomberg, cooperating the Bill Gates' small schools initiatives, broke up large high schools. Cooperating with the influence of Eli Broad, a new breed of principals, with limited school experience and little or no initial training as school assistant principals, have taken office. As the schools were broken up, the numbers of deans shrank or disappeared. Also, guidance counselor ranks shriveled up, as the DOE replaced their roles with those of classroom teachers, assigning the latter "advisory periods."

The outcome of these policies is that greater numbers of students now roam the halls, unchecked by deans conducting sweeps. The new principals lack the institutional memory of years of experience as teachers and assistant principals, years that would give them experience in the basics of managing schools. Places like Lehman campus are stuffed with schools led by neophyte principals. Leading a school is more than supervising teachers. While the Leadership Academy principals think that their role is just to supervise teachers, experience school leaders know that setting school tone is important.

The critical negative impact of cell phones and the fruits of cell phone bans

Research reported this year indicated that when schools implement cell phone bans test scores improve.  The gains are even greater in schools with lower income populations. Researchers, being out of the classroom as actual teachers are missing the terrible scale of distraction that phones and game players provide: means for taking pictures, shooting video, viewing pictures, watching videos, viewing pornography. It is disingenuous for all the parties promoting their introduction into the classroom. Only the well motivated students will commit themselves to keeping them out of site and out of use. To the distractable student, few topics can compete with messaging gossip, porno pictures or bloody games.

The United Kingdom researchers directly criticized DeBlasio and Farina's decision to lift the cell phone ban, as reported this year in the Guardian ("Schools that ban mobile phones see better academic results: Effect of ban on phones adds up to equivalent of extra week of classes over a pupil’s school year"):
However, some schools are starting to allow limited use of the devices. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has lifted a 10-year ban on phones on school premises, with the city’s chancellor of schools stating that it would reduce inequality.

This view is misguided, according to Beland and Murphy, who found that the ban produced improvements in test scores among students, with the lowest-achieving students gaining twice as much as average students. The ban had a greater positive impact on students with special education needs and those eligible for free school meals, while having no discernible effect on high achievers.

“We found that not only did student achievement improve, but also that low-achieving and low-income students gained the most. We found the impact of banning phones for these students was equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days.

“Therefore, de Blasio’s lifting of the ban on mobile phones with a stated intention of reducing inequalities may in fact lead to the opposite. Allowing phones into schools will harm the lowest-achieving and low-income students the most.”
Thus, DeBlasio's cell phone policy hurts the lower income and special education students.

So, we can safely call the situation: DeBlasio and Mulgrew vs. students, and teachers, whose positive evaluations hinge on positive test scores.

Cell phones threaten educational process and they threaten