Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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Sept. 22, 2014

TI: same since ‘84

by James Sleigh, Online Sports Editor
Take one look around any Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) math or science classroom and the calculator of choice for almost every student will be the same: a Texas Instruments graphing calculator. And chances are it's been that way ever since those same students first enrolled in an MCPS school. As students advance onto higher levels of math, starting in middle school, they are required to buy a graphing calculator; and for almost all kids and their parents, the obvious choice would be any deviation of Texas Instrument's long line of graphing calculators. Because of the calculator's outsized cost, school districts should not encourage students to buy TI's brand, and should instead recommend other calculator brands, like Casio.

The Dallas-based Texas Instruments company made its debut in the educational technology field in the 1970s, and now holds 93 percent of graphing calculator sales in the United States, analyzed over an 11 month period between 2013-2014, and is worth over $51 billion. Online retailers, such as Amazon and eBay call the TI-84 their “best-selling calculator,” and one that is “a perennial favorite for high school and college-level classrooms,” according to an eBay disclaimer. With such a huge share in the calculator market, the company can afford to keep prices high. Retailers like Amazon sell the TI-84 for around $90 to $120, and eBay and other informal exchange sites put a price tag of around $40 to $85. According to the Washington Post, however, it “costs $15-20 to manufacture and has a profit margin of over 50 percent for Texas Instruments,” even higher than margins of notoriously expensive Apple products.

To save money, MCPS and school districts across the country should research alternative graphing calculator manufacturers, like Casio, whose products would be much less of a strain on school pocketbooks. The Post reports that Casio’s “competitor for the TI-84 Plus, the fx-9860GII, has an MSRP of $79.99. Its best-selling model, the fx-9750 GII, has an MSRP of $49.99.” Both of the Casio calculators have graphing capabilities, and look very similar to TI calculators. While the arrangement of the keys is different, the functions and mathematical concepts that the Casio calculators can perform are the same.

On school supply lists in school districts across the country, students are encouraged to buy either the TI-83 or TI-84 graphing calculator models, but for many younger siblings, they inherit the same calculators as their older counterparts. Texas Instruments was one of the first companies to provide training and resources for teachers and students alike, allowing them to become the biggest graphing calculator manufacturer. MCPS has a loan system that provides calculators to families in need, ensuring a high demand that has allowed sales to remain high without any kind of innovation or cost-lessening strategies. Since 2004, the Washington Post reports, the hardware and cost have stayed the same on the TI-84 model, with “480 kilobytes of ROM and 24 kilobytes of RAM. Its black-and-white screen remains 96×64 pixels.”

With the advent of standardized testing, however, all the technological advances that have allowed other gadgets to excel in the tech market have held calculator advances back. New aspects, like a camera, Internet capabilities and other technological breakthroughs would make the calculator unsuitable for testing.

MCPS should instead look into training services for Casio and other competitors, and should also look to save parents and students from spending extra money. This would put less of a financial burden on schools and students, and would make the calculator market more competitive.

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  • Veronica Jones on October 2, 2014 at 6:10 AM
    I always wondered why MCPS insisted upon Texas Instruments calculators -- now I know why.
  • Benjamin on October 3, 2014 at 2:38 PM
  • calculator man on October 14, 2014 at 9:10 AM
    Listing an over 50% margin for TI's projects and comparing that to apple products isn't a good idea considering apple usually has ~69% profit margin on iPhone 5 and 5s.
  • Mary on October 15, 2014 at 6:49 PM
    I've had a casio forever. It's awesome, and actually more organized than a TI.
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