The Causal Impact of Schooling on Children’s Development: Lessons for Developmental Science

Entry into formal schooling is a signature developmental milestone for young children and their families and represents an important period of cognitive, social, and emotional development. Until recently, few researchers have attempted to isolate the unique impact of schooling on children's developmental and academic outcomes. The application of quasiexperimental methods has provided researchers with the tools to examine when and how schooling shapes children's development. In this article, we summarize three main insights from this work: (a) Schooling produces major, unique changes in children's growth across a wide range of psychological processes important for learning; (b) the effects of schooling are not universal across all domains; and (c) schooling impacts cognitive processes that are not explicitly taught. We also propose that a deeper look at classroom instruction and brain development can expand our understanding of how schooling influences academic success and positive life outcomes and provide a model for developmental science more broadly.