I am an Assistant Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College,  Columbia University. My research focuses on information problems in human capital development and using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to find low-cost, scalable interventions that improve education outcomes. 

                                                    Peter Bergman


Updated:Parent-Child Information Frictions and Human Capital Investment: Evidence from a Field Experiment Investment (Revise and Resubmit, Journal of Political Economy)

Abstract: This paper studies information frictions between parents and their children, and how these affect human capital investments. I provide detailed, biweekly information to a random sample of parents about their child's missed assignments and grades and find parents have upwardly-biased beliefs about their child's effort. Providing additional information attenuates this bias and improves student achievement. Using data from the experiment, I then estimate a persuasion game between parents and their children that shows the treatment effect is due to a combination of more accurate beliefs and reduced monitoring costs. The experimental results and policy simulations from the model demonstrate that improving the quality of school reporting or providing frequent information to parents about their child's effort in school can produce gains in achievement at a low cost.

Successful Schools and Risky Behaviors Among Low-Income Adolescents
(forthcoming, Pediatrics. with Mitchell Wong, Karen Coller, Rebecca Dudovitz, David Kennedy, Richard Buddin, Martin Shapiro, Sheryl Kataoka, Arleen Brown, Chi Hong Tseng, and Paul Chung)

The Effects of School Integration: Evidence from a Randomized Desegregation Program

Abstract: This paper studies the impact of a desegregation court ruling on several medium-run outcomes. This ruling mandates that seven school districts, which serve higher-income, predominantly-white families, accept a group of minority elementary school students each year who apply to transfer from a nearby, predominantly-minority school district. The fixed number of slots are allocated to families via lottery. The offer to transfer increases the number of students who enroll in college by 10 percentage points. This result is driven by greater attendance to two-year and public colleges and particularly for male students. There is suggestive evidence male students are also more likely to vote. In contrast, the offer to transfer increases the likelihood of arrest, most often for non-violent offenses.

Is Information Enough? Evidence from a Tax Credit Information Experiment with 1,000,000 Students

(with Jeff Denning and Day Manoli)
Abstract: This study examines the effect of information about tax credits for college using a sample of over 1 million students or prospective students in Texas. We sent emails and letters to students that described tax credits for college and tracked college outcomes. We find that for all three of our samples---already enrolled students, students who had previously applied to college but were not currently enrolled, and rising high school seniors---that information about tax credits for college did not affect reenrollment, application, and enrollment respectively. We test whether effects vary according to information frames and find that no treatment arms changed student outcomes. We discuss reasons why we found no effect and insights into what attributes make low-cost information interventions effective.

Technology Adoption in Education: Usage, Spillovers and Student Achievement
Abstract: Previous research shows that that providing detailed information to parents about their child's academic performance can significantly improve student achievement. Many school districts accomplish this at scale via technology that places student information online, but the adoption of this technology by parents is unknown. This paper uses data from a Learning Management System operating in several hundred schools and a two-stage experiment across 59 schools to study the adoption of this technology by parents along extensive and intensive margins, as well as spillovers and effects on student outcomes. A quarter of parents ever use this technology; adoption follows an S-shape; significant spillovers occur along intensive but not extensive margins; and student grades improve as a result.

(Update coming soon) The Effects of Making Performance Information Public: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Los Angeles Teachers

(with Matt Hill) CESifo Working Paper
The publication of performance ratings has ambiguous implications for performance. This paper uses school-district data and discontinuities in publication to study the effects of publically rating teachers. Relative to unpublished teachers, we find that high-performing students sort into classrooms with highly-rated teachers. Conditional on publication, ratings labels induce sorting as well as teacher attrition: low-rated teachers teach lower-performing students and are more likely to leave the district in subsequent years relative to higher-rated teachers. There is no effect of publication on test scores and heterogeneous effects by ratings labels that may increase achievement gaps between low and high performing students.

Parent Skills and Information Asymmetries: Experimental Evidence from Home Visits and Text Messages in Middle and High Schools (available upon request)

(with Chana Edmond-Verley and Nicole Notario-Risk)
Description: This paper studies the ability to foster parent skills and resolve information problems as a means to improving student achievement. We conducted a three-arm randomized control trial in which community-based organizations provided regular information to families about their child's academic progress in one arm and supplemented this with home visits on skills-based information in a separate arm. Math and English test scores improved for the treatment arm with home visits. There are large effects on retention for both groups during the year, though learning gains tend to accrue for students with average-and-above baseline performance and students at the lower-end of the distribution appear marginally retained.

Research in Progress

Engaging Parents At Scale: Evidence from a Districtwide Automated Texting Experiment

Description: Developing and testing a large-scale automated text-message alert system to inform parents about their child's academic progress.

Organizational Policy on Technology Adoption in Education: Evidence from a Field Experiment

(with Todd Rogers)
Description: Testing how defaults affect short run and longer-run take up and efficacy of an automated-text message system alerting parents to their child's missing assignments, grades and absences.

Does Information on School Quality Impact Residential Choice? Evidence from a Nation-wide Field Experiment

(with Eric Chan, Matt Hill and Heather Schwartz)
Description: A nationwide-RCT adding school quality information onto low-income housing rental websites and adjusting default search frames to help 10,000+ families move to areas with better schools.

Creating Moves to Opportunity

(with Raj Chetty, Nathan Hendren, Lawrence Katz and Christopher Palmer)

Engaging Parents as a Means to Address Educational and Health Behavioral Outcomes: Evidence from a Field Experiment

(with Rebecca Dudovitz, Anne Escaron and Mitchell Wong)

Description: Exploring whether engaging parents in their child's education reduces teens' risky behaviors.



Contact Information

Email: bergman [at] tc [dot] columbia [dot] edu

Phone: (212) 678-3932

Office: 417 Thorndike

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)


CNN: Parental Involvement Overrated?

NY Times: Helping the Poor in Education



Columbia Committee on the Economics of Education