Policymakers often overestimate the power of agentic players in the system and their own as the causes for the successes and failures of reforms. These are but a small part of the powers in play. The article sheds light on contextual factors that are underestimated when planning and implementing reforms in education. The study utilises a case study method to explore three failed reforms in public education to identify the influence of DESCP (i.e., demographic, economic, social, cultural and political) factors on reform success. The study provides an in-depth understanding of why factors in the action environment are as important as agentic players when aspiring to improve national education. The analysis highlights the impact of DESCP factors on basic capacities toward successful implementation of educational reforms. The DESCP factors are discussed, their relevance to reform success is explicated, and their impact is exemplified with policy cases.