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Back to school already? Debate continues over year-round benefits

Back to school time has arrived for those students on the year-round schedule, but the debate continues over whether learning improves with shorter, more frequent breaks.

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Students return for their first day of classes at Barwell Road Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C., on July 9, 2012. Monday was the first day of school for 26,000 kids on a year-round calendar in the Wake County, N.C., public school system.

Gerry Broome/AP

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By the time summer's over, many families can't wait for school to start. Working parents have struggled to find camps or babysitting, kids are bored and teachers fret over "summer slide" — the academic losses that research shows hits kids from poor families hardest.

Year-round schooling might seem like the antidote, and in some parts of the country, schools with just a few weeks off are not uncommon. In Raleigh, N.C. and other parts of Wake County, for instance, this week was the first week of school for 26,000 students on a year-round calendar.

But year-round schools, which once seemed like a panacea for everything from low test scores to overcrowding, have proven to be a mixed bag. And some places that once embraced them — including Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and parts of California — have returned to traditional calendars.

Research on whether learning improves in year-round schools is mixed, with some year-round schools reporting gains and others finding that kids on traditional schedules do better. Esther Fusco, a professor at Hofstra University's School of Education, Health and Human Services, says that overall, "research suggests that students in high-needs districts and those who have disabilities do better in year-round learning situations. This is logical because these students do not have the down time that occurs over the summer. But the results are not very significant. I have not seen any study that shows students greatly improve."

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