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

Papers

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.

Is Information Enough? 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: 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.

Leveraging Technology to Engage Parents at Scale: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial

with Eric Chan
Abstract: While leveraging parents has the potential to increase student performance, programs that do so are often costly to implement or they target younger children. We partner text-messaging technology and school information systems to automate the gathering and provision of information to parents at scale. In a field experiment across 22 middle and high schools, we used this technology to send automated text-message alerts to parents about their child's missed assignments, grades and class absences. The intervention reduces course failures by 39% and increases class attendance by 17%. Students are more likely to be retained in the district. These effects are particularly large for students with below-average GPA and students in high school. There are no effects on test scores however. As in previous research, the intervention appears to change parents' beliefs about their child's performance and increases parent monitoring. Our results show that this type of automated technology can improve student performance relatively cheaply and at scale.

Is this technology useless? How Seemingly Irrelevant Factors Affect Adoption and Efficacy

with Todd Rogers
Abstract: 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.

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

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

with Matt Hill, CESifo Working Paper
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.

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.

Research in Progress

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

with Elisabeth Barnett and Vikash Reddy
Description: 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
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: Testing whether engaging parents in their child's education reduces teens' risky behaviors.