DES MOINES - Administrators in many Iowa school districts are rethinking the use of cells phones at school.
In Waukee, Marshalltown, Ackley and other cities, administrators are easing up on strict bans so students can now use cell phones during free time such as lunch. Many had banned the use of the devices during school hours.
Superintendent Dave Wilkerson told a group of teachers at a welcome-back meeting this fall that, "We're fighting a losing battle" when it comes to banning the gadgets.
"We're creating a false world for them in the school, a world so different from what they're dealing with on the outside," he said.
Just a couple of years ago there was a statewide movement to tighten cell phone bans. Education officials were concerned that students would send text messages, even test answers, to friends during class time.
Researchers predict that U.S. students soon will use cell phones for educational purposes such as research on the Internet. And, some technology experts say cell phones will work their way into classrooms just as calculators did.
"The technology in cell phones is growing immensely," said Denise Krefting, an educational technologist at Heartland Area Education Agency in Johnston. "I see a really good connection and a real good growth potential" in schools.
The move toward using cell phones as education tools comes as officials are pressured to prepare children for a global economy.
Nielsen Co. research shows that nearly half of children get cell phones before they hit their teens. Four out of five teens carry cell phones or other wireless devices, according to a national survey this fall by CTIA-The Wireless Association.
Waukee Middle School teacher Susan Hope said seeing such statistics has moved her to teach cell phone etiquette in her sixth-grade communications class. In one lesson, Hope told her students it's fine to refer to friends as "u'' in a text message, but that "you" is appropriate for schoolwork.
"We also talked about how some kids would say something in a text that they would never say face to face," she said. "I wanted the kids to see both the positive and the negative effects."
Last spring, teachers at Waukee High School would have been able to snatch students' cell phones away for the day if they were seen using it. Now, students can use the devices between classes and at lunch.
"Everyone was excited that they got to use their phones, but truth be told, everyone was using them anyway," said 16-year-old Mackie Saylor, a junior.
In Fort Dodge, administrators and students are working on a more flexible cell phone policy that they expect to present to school board members.
"My viewpoint is that we're an educational institution and we should teach students how to behave appropriately, and that includes technology," said Dave Keane, the new principal at Fort Dodge Senior High School.
Earlier this fall, students in Fort Dodge ignored the school's cell phone ban when a report of a gun threat led to a lock down of the school.
"I texted my dad and asked him if he could tell me what was going on," said 17-year-old senior Shelby Forsythe, whose father is on the school board. "He said it was fine, that it wasn't a big deal."
Joel Bagley, principal of AGWSR High School in Ackley, said letting teenagers use their cell phones during free time allows teachers to crack down on cell phone use when it really matters - during class time.
The cell phone ban "was just a constant battle," Bagley said. "We kind of got tired of it, is the bottom line."
Earlier this month, a technology consultant, Marc Prensky, told Southeast Polk School District officials that students will suffer for adult ignorance of technology, and says it demands a different style of teaching.
"Teachers who are lecturers are kind of doomed to failure," he said. "That's the change that's coming in education."