The US Department of Education assumes that improving teaching is the way to improve the economy. With better teaching, we will have more learning (higher test scores, according to the feds), and this will improve the economy. Martin Luther King said it worked the other way around:
"We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.” (Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).
Evidence supporting the MLK position has been published previously (e.g Zhao, 2009, Baker, 2007). Here is some new data.
Ananat et. al. reported that greater job losses resulted in lower grade 8 NAEP math scores, but results were not significant for grade 4 scores or for reading scores. The effect of job loss on math scores was substantial: Job losses to 1% of a state's population were estimated to lower math scores about 3 points, and large losses (3.4%) predict a decline of 10 points, an effect size of .25 (curricular interventions generally have maximum effect sizes of .10). Their results also indicate that "downturns affect all students, not just students who experience parental job loss" (p. 24).
Ananat, E., Gassman-Pines, A., Francis, D., and Gibson-Davis, C. 2011. Children left behind: The effects of statewide job less on student acbievement. NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Working Paper No. 17104, JEL No. 12,16. http://www.nber.org/papers/w17104
Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104.
Zhao, Y. 2009. Catching Up or Leading the Way? American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.