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

                                                    Peter Bergman


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

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.

Broken Tax Breaks? Evidence from a Tax Credit Information Experiment with 1,000,000 Students

with Jeff Denning and Day Manoli (Revise and Resubmit, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management)
Abstract: There is increasing evidence that tax credits for college do not affect college enrollment. This may be because prospective students do not know about tax benefits for credits or because the design of tax credits is not conducive to affecting educational outcomes. We focus on changing the salience of tax benefits by providing information about tax benefits 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 benefits for college and tracked college outcomes. For all three of our samples---rising high school seniors, already enrolled students, and students who had previously applied to college but were not currently enrolled---information about tax benefits for college did not affect enrollment or reenrollment. We test whether effects vary according to information frames and found that no treatment arms changed student outcomes. We conclude that salience is not the primary reason that tax credits for college do not affect enrollment.

Leveraging Parents: The Impact of High-Frequency Information on Student Achievement

with Eric Chan (Submitted)
Abstract: 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.

The Impact of Defaults on Technology Adoption, and its Underappreciation by Policymakers

with Todd Rogers (Submitted)
Abstract: We conduct a field experiment to understand how enrollment defaults affect the take up and impact of an education technology designed to help parents improve student achievement. The standard strategy schools use to introduce this system to parents—online signup—induces negligible adoption. Simplifying the enrollment process modestly increases adoption, primarily among parents of higher-performing students. Automatically enrolling parents dramatically increases adoption. Automatic enrollment significantly and meaningfully improves student achievement. Survey results suggest that automatic enrollment is uncommon, and that it may be uncommon because its impact is unanticipated by policymakers. Surveyed superintendents, principals, and family engagement coordinators overestimate the take-up rate of the standard condition by 38 percentage points and underestimate the take-up rate of automatic enrollment by 31 percentage points. After learning the actual take-up rates under each enrollment condition, there is a corresponding 140% increase in the willingness to pay for the technology when shifting implementation from opt-in enrollment to opt-out enrollment.

Better Together? Social Networks in Truancy and the Targeting of Treatment

with Magdalena Bennett
Abstract: Truancy correlates with many risky behaviors and adverse outcomes. We use detailed administrative data to construct social networks based on students who miss class together. We simulate these networks and use permutation tests to show that certain students systematically coordinate their absences. Leveraging a parent-information intervention on student absences, we find spillover effects from treated students onto peers in their network. We show that a simple optimal-targeting algorithm that incorporates machine-learning techniques to identify heterogeneous effects, as well as the direct effects and spillover effects, improves the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the intervention subject to a budget constraint.

The Effects of Making Performance Information Public: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Los Angeles Teachers

with Matt Hill, (Revise and Resubmit, Economics of Education Review)
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.

Nudging Technology Use: Descriptive and Experimental Evidence from School Information Systems

(Revise and Resubmit, Education Finance and Policy)
Abstract: 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.

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 (Revise and Resubmit, Economics of Education Review )
Abstract: 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.

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

with Rebecca Dudovitz and Mitchell Wong (paper available on request)
Description: Testing whether engaging parents in their child's education reduces teens' risky behaviors.

Research in Progress

Creating Moves to Opportunity Project

with Raj Chetty, Stefanie Deluca, Nathan Hendren, Lawrence Katz and Christopher Palmer

Information Frictions and the Search for Housing: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial

with Eric Chan and Adam Kapor

Using Predictive Analytics to Track Students: Evidence from a 7 College Experiment

with Elisabeth Barnett and Vikash Reddy

Bridging the Digital Divide: A Randomized Controlled Trial Providing Internet Access to 10,000 Low-Income Families

with Susha Roy and Elizabeth Setren

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

with Eric Chan, Matt Hill and Heather Schwartz