Saying that reforming education is perhaps “the economic issue of our time,” President Obama went before a major civil rights organization on Thursday to defend his main education program against criticisms from some minority and teachers groups.“It’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have,” Mr. Obama said, according to prepared remarks. “It’s an economic issue when eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade. It’s an economic issue when we know countries that outeducate us today will outcompete us tomorrow. ”Mr. Obama, in his speech before the 100th anniversary convention of the National Urban League, acknowledged “some controversy” about his education initiative, which he attributed partly to “a general resistance to change, a comfort with the status quo.” But he chose the civil rights organization as his audience to address specifically the complaints of minority groups that schools and teachers in impoverished communities and inner cities will be unfairly neglected in the competition to meet higher standards and the drive to impose accountability for students’ standardized test results. “Our goal isn’t to fire or admonish teachers,” Mr. Obama said. Rather, he said the “Race to the Top” program, which provides additional federal funds to local schools that meet administration standards — and a companion effort to overhaul the nation’s 5,000 worst schools — were ultimately aimed at giving good teachers higher salaries, more support, from supplies to smaller classes, and more training to provide them with career opportunities and financial rewards. About $4 billion is being invested in each initiative.