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New Report: Half of High Schoolers Own Smartphones

Smartphones are now the most commonly owned handheld computing devices among high school-aged students, with about 50 percent of those surveyed claiming ownership, according to a new report released Monday by Project Tomorrow here at the Virtual School Symposium in New Orleans.

Further, more than three in five parents surveyed said they would be likely to buy a mobile device for their child's education, a ratio which shifted downward only slightly when the question was asked to rural and/or low-income parents.

The report is the latest to stem from the 2011 Speak Up survey, an annual endeavor that reaches hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers, and which is given by Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit educational research group based in Irvine, Calif. These particular results reinforce the growing idea that connecting students to online content through their own smartphones is practical by saving districts the cost of buying devices while utilizing tools students are obtaining in increasing numbers.

About 27 percent of school leaders surveyed said they were exploring allowing students to use their own mobile devices on campus for educational purposes. In some cases, that exploration goes beyond the school level, such as in Florida, where the Orlando Sentinel recently reported that the state board of education is proposing a program to supply every student who is unable to afford their own mobile device either a state- or district-issued one, while allowing those who can afford district-approved devices to bring their own.

The state board's proposal estimated that two-thirds of its public school students would need devices provided to them, half through state funding and half through district funding. Considering current ownership levels shown in the Speak Up data, as well as exponential growth of those levels in the last five years, perhaps estimates in Florida and elsewhere on the ability of students to provide their own devices are overly pessimistic.

This recent report shows a growth of roughly 400 percent in smartphone and tablet ownership compared against results from the 2006 Speak Up survey. Nearly 40 percent of middle school students reported owning a smartphone, a bit lower than the nearly half who owned a cell phone that could not connect to the Internet. Middle schoolers were actually slightly more likely than high schoolers to own a tablet computing device.

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