In 2012, Ecuador signed an agreement to introduce the International Baccalaureate into the country’s public-schools. Once considered an emblematic policy of former president Correa’s administration, the initiative is now questioned and its future uncertain. This ethnographic study strives to write against the commonly invoked deficit narratives that attribute the initiative’s shortcoming to students’ dispositions. I considered how the practices and meanings that result from the encounter between the IB and the contextual arrangements of a public-school inhibited students’ abilities to successfully engage with the programme. I focused on the feelings of frustration and disengagement that emerge as students attempted to negotiate the material constraints present in their experiences of schooling and the promise of social mobility attributed to the IB. Based on these findings, I highlight the dangers of an initiative in which success is largely predicated on students’ agential responses to the constraints of their environments.