Four Memphis charter schools are piloting a new reading curriculum this school year aimed at boosting reading comprehension in a city and state with lagging literacy rates.

The Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum is in classrooms at Memphis Delta Preparatory Charter School, STAR Academy Charter School, Gestalt Community Schools and Leadership Preparatory Charter School.

Created by author and professor E.D. Hirsch Jr., the curriculum focuses on students’ background knowledge of the topic, not only their formal decoding skills.

While the curriculum is free, teacher training and related resources are being funded with grants of about $10,000 from Memphis Education Fund, a collaborative created in 2014 and rebranded in 2016 in partnership with local education leaders and philanthropists.

Michael McKenna, founder of Memphis Delta Prep, said the money was crucial to making the change.

“As a small charter organization, we don’t have the ability for professional development like that in our budget,” McKenna said. “This gave us the opportunity to collaborate with others.”

The grants come at a time when local and state officials are doubling down on solutions to Tennessee’s reading challenges. The overarching goal is for 75 percent of the state’s third-graders to be reading on grade level by 2025. Currently less than half of Tennessee students are there.

Memphis Education Fund is providing the grants in collaboration with The New Teacher Project, the Core Knowledge Foundation and Hyde Family Foundations. (Disclosure: Hyde also supports Chalkbeat. Learn about our funding here).

Lesley Brown, the Memphis fund’s director of human capital investments, said the grants are just one facet of investment in early literacy. The group also helped to sponsor another literacy curriculum pilot of KIPP Wheatley at 11 charter schools.

“We don’t prescribe what curriculum is used, but we are trying to help eliminate barriers for schools to quality curriculum and to purchase quality books,” said Brown. “Kids feel the difference between books and photocopies.”