Izaak Wirszup was a native of Poland and a Holocaust survivor. He emigrated to the U.S. after World War II, settling in Chicago, and was instrumental in calling public attention to the vast gaps between American and Soviet expectations for mathematics achievement among schoolchildren.
In 1979, as director of the Survey of Recent East European Mathematical Literature, Wirszup sent a report to the National Science Foundation comparing U.S. and Soviet science and mathematics education. The report reached President Jimmy Carter, and the administration initiated a reevaluation of the adequacy of American schools as a result.
In 1983, Wirszup cofounded the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) to bring mathematics education in the United States up to the standards of Japan, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union. The project has since grown to become the nation's largest university-based curriculum project for kindergarten through twelfth-grade mathematics. As director of the UCSMP Resource Development Component, he oversaw the collection of texts and teaching materials from many countries.
When he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, Wirszup was professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he had been a faculty member since 1949. He also published more than 60 books relating to topics in mathematics, mathematics education, and research in the psychology of learning and teaching mathematics.
Wirszup died on January 30, 2008, at the age of 93.