Secondary lissencephaly evolved in mice due to effects on neurogenesis and the tangential distribution of neurons. Signaling pathways that help maintain lissencephaly are still poorly understood. We show that inactivating Twist1 in the primitive meninges causes cortical folding in mice. Cell proliferation in the meninges is reduced, causing loss of arachnoid fibroblasts that express Raldh2, an enzyme required for retinoic acid synthesis. Regionalized loss of Raldh2 in the dorsolateral meninges is first detected when folding begins. The ventricular zone expands and the forebrain lengthens at this time due to expansion of apical radial glia. As the cortex expands, regionalized differences in the levels of neurogenesis are coupled with changes to the tangential distribution of neurons. Consequentially, cortical growth at and adjacent to the midline accelerates with respect to more dorsolateral regions, resulting in cortical buckling and folding. Maternal retinoic acid supplementation suppresses cortical folding by normalizing forebrain length, neurogenesis and the tangential distribution of neurons. These results suggest that Twist1 and balanced retinoic acid signaling from the meninges are required to maintain normal levels of neurogenesis and lissencephaly in mice.