This paper presents an overview and discussion of nine studies that attempt to explain educational achievement and attainment/participation) in different African countries. Available information on school, household, child and community characteristics are explored for this purpose. Four of the studies base their analysis on national sample surveys, the remainder on evidence from field investigations of specific interventions at the primary level. This paper then discusses the significance, limitations, and policy and research implications of the findings. The studies speak to a variety of issues, for example, the importance of socio-economic as opposed to school characteristics in determining educational outcomes, the effect of quality improvements on enrollment, the importance of hardware versus software, textbooks versus class size, professional versus para-professional teachers, and the role of parent participation. Most of the interventions were found to have positive (or in the case of those that have not been underway very long, promising) impacts. This overview finds that outcomes can differ significantly depending on the context and status of variables from all of the domains considered. This greatly complicates the analysis required and makes simple generalizations about policy difficult; but it should encourage the continued experimentation and search for innovative approaches.