All present and accounted for

Call it the educational equivalent of Rudolph Giuliani's crackdown on petty crime in New York.

Three years ago, Walton-Verona High School in Kentucky decided to take action if a student had two days of unexcused absence in a row. Ever since, it's been achieving something as impressive as a safe and clean Times Square: a dropout rate of zero.

The school's truancy- and dropout-prevention program was honored last week by the Kentucky Department of Education. In a state with a graduation rate of 65 percent, the education commissioner said he wasn't aware of any school besides Walton-Verona that is keeping every student on track, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

With a federal grant, school officials have been able to track down students who skip, find out if they have problems at home or in school, and connect them and their parents with various services. It helps that the attendance list is only 473 names long, but some experts believe the model could be used in larger settings.

It's not just high-schoolers who seem to need that careful attention. Some colleges, stymied by low retention rates, are actually asking professors to take regular attendance and are intervening when students go AWOL (see page 15).

There will always be some students so motivated and disciplined that they rarely consider cutting class. And there will always be those who are determined to sleep in or slack off. But the best educators make it their mission to notice and hold accountable all the ones in the middle; buffeted about by an array of problems or distractions, they may just need a nudge to return to a path they know will serve them better in the long run.

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