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.
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.
Email: bergman [at] tc [dot] columbia [dot] edu Phone: (212) 678-3932 Office: 417 Thorndike Curriculum Vitae (pdf)
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.
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.
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.
We partner text-messaging technology with school information systems to automate
the gathering and provision of high-frequency information on students' academic
progress to parents. In an experiment across 22 schools, we use this technology
to send weekly automated messages to parents about their child's missed assignments,
grades, and class absences. We pre-specified five primary outcomes. The intervention
reduces course failures by 38%, increases class attendance by 17% and increases
retention. The positive effects are particularly large for students with below-average
GPA and students in high school, which persisted into a second year. There are no
effects on state test scores, though the exams, which were new and zero stakes
for students, were subsequently discontinued; students used substantially less
than the expected amount of time to complete them. In contrast, we find significant
improvements on in-class exam scores. Our results show this technology
can improve student performance relatively cheaply and at scale.
We conduct a field experiment to understand how the strategies organizations use to implement
new technologies affect their adoption and efficacy. Specifically, we show that the standard
strategy schools use to introduce a text message alert system for parents—online signup—induces
negligible adoption. Simplifying the enrollment process by allowing parents to enroll via text
messages modestly increases adoption—especially among parents of higher-performing students.
Automatically enrolling parents dramatically increases adoption since very few parents opt out.
The standard and simplified implementations generate no detectable increases in student
performance. However, automatically enrolling parents meaningfully increases GPA and reduces
student course failures. Simple changes to the implementation of new technologies can lead
to radically different conclusions about whether new technologies are valuable and their
ability to close achievement gaps.
The Effects of Making Performance Information Public: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Los Angeles Teachers with Matt Hill, CESifo Working Paper (Submitted)
Abstract: 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.
Given significant expenditures on education technologies,
important questions are who adopts these technologies and
why, and whether promoting usage impacts student outcomes.
This paper studies the adoption and ability to promote usage
of one type of technology that is increasingly ubiquitous:
school-to-parent communication technologies. Analyzing usage
data from a Learning Management System across several hundred
schools and then conducting a two-stage experiment across 59
schools to nudge the use of this technology by families, I
find that 57% of families ever use it and adoption correlates
strongly with measures of income and student achievement.
Using a survey experiment I find that informing families about
research on the value of school-to-parent communication
technologies can promote adoption and there is evidence
that social norms influence adoption as well. While a
simple nudge increases usage and modestly improves
student achievement, without more significant intervention
these technologies may exacerbate gaps in information access
and student performance across income and performance levels.
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
Using Predictive Analytics to Track Students:
Evidence from a 7 College Experimentwith Elisabeth Barnett and Vikash Reddy
We implement a randomized experiment across 7 community colleges in New York to test the effects of using traditional, placement-exam methods to track students into remedial
or college-level courses versus a method using predictive analytics to track students into these courses.
Does Information on School Quality Impact Residential Choice? Evidence from a Nation-wide Field Experiment with Eric Chan, Matt Hill and Heather Schwartz
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
Testing whether engaging parents in their child's education reduces teens' risky behaviors.
CNN: Parental Involvement Overrated?
Columbia Committee on the Economics of Education
Email: bergman [at] tc [dot] columbia [dot] edu
Phone: (212) 678-3932
Office: 417 Thorndike
Curriculum Vitae (pdf)