IF YOU THOUGHT Johnny had trouble reading, wait till he tries math with some of the "teachers" that may be squeaking out of D.C. Teachers College with the blessing of the college's president. According to a report by staff writer Lawrence Feinberg on the front page of this newspaper yesterday, four college students who failed their required courses in mathematics were scheduled to graduate today, anyway. Moreover, according to John B. Thornton Jr., the understandably angered head of the faculty association there, college president Wendell P. Russell granted waivers to the four, exempting them from academic regulations.

At this writing, there is no explanation from Dr. Russell - and we're hard-pressed to think of a good one. From what their college professors reported, these four would have no business whatever getting degrees today. Ethel Tyree, an assistant professor of mathematics, said one of the students is so weak in math that she can't add simple fractions. Mr. Thornton said another had failed a general math course this spring - for the fourth time. Yet another was absent nearly all the time until almost the end of the semester and reportedly acknowledged not understanding the work.

As if that weren't scandalous enough, Mr. Thornton and several college officials stated that last year Dr. Russell allowed a student to graduate from D.C. Teachers College even though she failed her practice teaching assignment - which is a graduation requirement.

Obviously such ill-qualified students should not be given degrees. Whether they should be given a further opportunity to meet serious requirements is another matter. In any case, we are not disposed to blame them for the appalling standards to which they are being held. The idea that people who can't add are being passed off as teachers and foisted on the children in this city's school system (or any other, for that matter) is frightful.

Surely the diligent, qualified teachers now in the D.C. public school system should be incensed by the prospect of such inferior talent infiltrating their ranks. We trust that school superintendent Vincent E. Reed will underscore his often-stated commitment to higher academic standards by doing everything possible to weed out those pitiful job applicants who come to the system with worthless degrees.

Similarly, the complete merger this fall of D.C. Teachers, Federal City College and the Washington Technical Institute demands strong supervision and assurances that educational requirements will not be warped to permit graduations that shouldn't take place.

Just as it is cruel to graduate elementary and high-school students who can't effectively read or add, it is criminal to award degrees in education to college students who can't perform these basic functions, either. Fortunately for the school system, there are all sorts of well-trained teachers looking for jobs these days. So while the new University of the District of Columbia is pulling itself together, other school officials can - and should - take advantage of a buyer's market to safeguard against the hiring of seriously inferior personnel.