In most OECD countries characterized by tracking, high-school choice is highly segregated by socioeconomic status (SES). Using rich administrative data on the population of Italian students, we document stark SES gaps in high-school track choice that mirrors track recommendations by teachers. Students from low SES are less likely to be recommended (and choose) top-tier high school tracks compared to students from high SES with the same standardized test scores and grades, with potentially negative implications for upward mobility of disadvantaged students. Why are low SES students recommended to lower tracks compared to students from high SES with similar performance? If teachers became aware of the bias in their recommendations, would they change their behavior?
The intent of this research is twofold. First, we aim at understanding the determinants of SES gaps in teachers' track recommendations through a combination of surveys and experiments with teachers, investigating the role of (i) biased beliefs about their own past recommendations, (ii) biased beliefs about future gaps in academic performance and returns to different tracks by students' SES. Second, we evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention that provides information to teachers on the bias in their past recommendations. Specifically, teachers in control schools receive only general information about the academic performance in high school of their past students, while teachers in the treatment group receive additional information about the gap in their track recommendations by students' SES. We will evaluate the impact of this intervention on teachers' track recommendations and on students' choices.