IN OUR "LETTERS" space today William Simons, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, replies to a recent editorial that called for basic academic testing of public school teachers before and after they are hired. Mr. Simons speaks out in vigilant defense of public school teachers and defends against the statistics and incidents that create doubt as to the competence of some teachers in the city and around the nation. But his defense stops there. There is no defense for city schoolchildren who sometimes find they are stuck with an incompetent teacher, a teacher who has no energy, no talent for the subject he is teaching, who is a poor speller, speaks badly and routinely is unprepared for class.

There is no successful corporation in this country that does not judge its employees by some basic standards. The school system is a big business too. It should not allow its most important employees, the teachers, to remain on the payroll without asking that they come to the job with basic academic skills and prepared to work toward a standard of excellence. The school system cannot allow itself to remain a good "government job" with tenure, a 9 to 3 work schedule and no demands of commitment. No company or school system should have to depend on the good will of its employees to get its money's worth for a day of work. The testing of basic skills is one way to set standards for public school teachers.

Improving our schools is a major and essential undertaking. It will not be accomplished by a defensive attitude on the part of the school board, the superintendent, school officers or the teachers' union. This is not a witch hunt. But the teachers' union may well find that there is no tolerance now for permitting incompetent people to hide in teaching jobs and add to the problems of the city school system.