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Year-round schooling examined

Some places return to regular schedule after mixed reviews

- Associated Press - Thursday, July 12, 2012

NEW YORK — 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 hit 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, Monday was the first day 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."

Parents unfamiliar with the year-round concept may not realize that children on these schedules usually have the same number of school days -- about 180 a year -- as those in regular schools. But vacations are distributed differently. So instead of having 10 or 12 weeks off in summer, kids might have a series of three-week breaks or six weeks off in summer with additional two-week vacations.

For parents who need child care, those repeated short breaks can actually mean more headaches than one long summer break. Year-round schools also typically cost more to run, thanks to air-conditioning, extra transportation costs and other expenses. And it's harder to make major repairs when classrooms are empty only for short periods.

Salt Lake City ended its year-round schools in 2011 after an analysis showed that comparable local schools with traditional calendars had better test scores, according to Jason R. Olsen, spokesman for the Salt Lake City School District.

And yet, the year-round calendar has its fans. A survey showed that a majority of Salt Lake City parents preferred year-round schools to the regular calendar. "They liked having two weeks away from school every nine weeks," Mr. Olsen said.

Shannon Oelrich of Cambridge, Minn., loves having her children in a year-round school that's offered as an option in her district on a first-come, first-served basis.

"I think it's good," she said. "The kids don't get as bored for the long break in the summer, and it's good to have a couple of breaks in the middle of the year. They're happier. And when they spend less time away from school, the teachers don't waste so much time reviewing."

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